Producers: Daniel Bakerman, Ethan Lazar, Brendon Sawatzky, Ian Dimerman, Hilary Pryor and Garfield L. Miller Director: Clark Johnson Screenplay: Garfield L. Miller and Hilary Pryor Cast: Christopher Walken, Roberta Maxwell, Christina Ricci, Zach Braff, Adam Beach, Martin Donovan, Peter Stebbings and Luke Kirby Distributor: Saban Films
In 1998, the chemical giant Monsanto filed suit against Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser, accusing him of patent infringement for using its genetically-modified canola seed in his fields. (The seed had been altered to resist the effect of the company’s popular herbicide, Roundup.) The case dragged on through trial, appeals, and final judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004.
This David-versus-Goliath story provides the scenario for Clark Johnson’s docu-drama, which follows the case from beginning to end. The screenplay by Garfield L. Miller and Hilary Pryor, who also served as producers, follows the pattern of all such little-man-against-the-system tales, but it’s made more palatable than most by a strong cast.
Roberta Maxwell, for example, is excellent as Percy’s concerned wife, whose concern about her husband’s wellbeing, and the possible loss of their farm, is palpable. Adam Beach gives an effective performance as Percy’s hired hand, whose own livelihood is threatened by the case. Christina Ricci is energetic and committed as Rebecca Salcau, the young activist who encourages Percy to fight on even when her own colleagues are dubious and the chances of success seem dim. And Zach Braff is extremely likable as Jackson Weaver, the small-town lawyer who has his own David-versus-Goliath battle on his hands when confronted by Monsanto’s canny hired guns led by formidable Rick Aarons (Martin Donovan).
But dominating the film is Christopher Walken, who makes Percy a convincingly cantankerous but not merely eccentric. In his hands Schmeiser emerges as a heroic figure devoted to continuing his family’s tradition as “seeders,” who saves a portion of each year’s crops to plant the following season and prizes the bottles of seeds he preserves in his barn year after year. He’s angered by the charge that he surreptitiously planted Monsanto’s seed and bewildered that even if he did so unintentionally, through contamination from the company’s nearby fields, he could be found guilty under the law.
Walken also conveys Percy’s gruff rejection of outside help, which he sees as charity, and his agonized realization that neighbors he’s known for years might not believe him. When he’s forced to become a public spokesman for the cause, in Walken’s hands Schmeiser’s discomfort is genuine and even touching.
“Percy Vs Goliath” doesn’t manage to make the ins and outs of this drawn-out legal battle entirely clear, and given the fact that it concludes with a mixed verdict means that it ends in a fashion that’s bittersweet rather than triumphant. And technically it’s more adequate than outstanding—the cinematography is by Luc Montpellier, the production design by Sara McCudden, the editing by Maureen Grant, Geoff Ashenhurst and Susan Maggi, and the score by Steven MacKinnon—but it’s an agreeable watch.
This is a film that does pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the title, but thanks to Walken and the supporting cast it’s an engaging trip through familiar territory.