2021, PG-13, 109 mins.
Christopher Walken as Percy Schmeiser / Roberta Maxwell as Louise Schmeiser / Christina Ricci as Rebecca Salcau / Zach Braff as Jackson Weaver / Adam Beach as Alton Kelly / Luke Kirby as Peter Schmeiser / Zoe Fish as Mary SchmeiserDirected by Clark Johnson / Written by Hilary Pryor
The new semi-biographical/environmental drama PERCY (aka PERCY VS. GOLIATH, depending on your location of release) details the plight of Saskatchewan based farmer and businessman Percy Schmeiser, who became a relative celebrity and spokesperson for independent agricultural rights when he waged a multi-tier legal battle against a corporation that accused him of using its own patented seeds without their permission.
Now, this all
doesn't seem to be the stuff of intoxicating drama, not to mention that
the film doesn't altogether traverse down any new terrain as far as
ordinary folk taking on big business in a David Vs. Goliath struggle.
What makes PERCY modestly intriguing is the atypical casting of
Christopher Walken and his low key performance (yes, he may not be
everyone's first image that comes to mind when one thinks of Canadian
prairie dweller, but he's in solid form here). Those expecting trademark eccentric Walken-isms may be up for
disappointment, but I for one admire the serene restraint and grounded
conviction that he brings to the role.
Without the Oscar winning actor, PERCY would have been fairly
narrative introduces us to the titular farmer, who in the late 1990s tended
to his farmland as he did for decades until cruel fate stepped in with the
appearance of Monsanto Co. and their heavily damning accusations against
him. In short, this
corporation accused him of theft. It
was Monsanto's claim that Percy stole their own proprietary seeds that are
pesticide resistant without their permission and - most importantly -
without paying them a dollar (or loonie in the Canadian lexicon).
Percy, a man of integrity and pride, steadfastly denies the charges
of being a petty and sneaky thief. It's
his counter-claim that he's incomparably familiar with the machinations of
his farmland, which has been overseen by multi-generations of his family
for half a century. That, and
he feels that any Monsanto seeds that appeared on his farmland must have
accidentally blown in from nearby farms, which means that he didn't
willfully steal anything, nor was he even aware that these seeds were in
his soil. Monsanto feels
otherwise, and their legal teams insist that it doesn't matter how the
seeds got on Percy's land, which propels them to take action.
what to do next, Percy discusses the legal war to come with his loving and
supportive wife in Louise (a fine Roberta Maxwell), and both know that
they are frankly getting too old for a protracted court case alongside the
damaging financial burden that would hit them.
Percy sees this whole affair as an attack on his character as a
lifelong farmer, so he decides to seek legal consul and hires a local
lawyer, Jackson (Zach Braff), who insists that this is a battle that Percy
and Louise will probably not win. He thinks that coughing up Monsanto's demanded $150,000 in
damages/compensation would be in order, but Percy can't bring himself to
Jackson takes the case and in the ensuing and initial court battle Percy
maintains his innocence, while a legion of seasoned lawyers for Monsanto are
unwavering in their assertion that their seeds (which work with their own
house brand herbicide Roundup) are their property.
The first case ends with a swift victory for Monsanto, which
results in them now wanting more money from the nearly bankrupt Percy,
including legal fee coverage. As
Jackson and Percy plot a move to a Supreme Court challenge, an
environmental activist in the form of Rebecca (Christina Ricci) emerges,
who wants to use Percy as a symbol to go on a campaign tour to preach out
against Monsanto's highly questionable and unethical farming measures.
There's an awful
lot to unpack here in terms of the various legal struggles portrayed in
PERCY, but it does so in a fairly expeditious manner, even if it paints
both parties in fairly black and white delineations (proud farmer = good,
corporation fighting him = greedy and evil).
When one starts to disseminate the simple nuts and bolts of
Monsanto's case, it seems both unreasonable and callous.
How can one accurately accuse Percy of theft without (a) motive or
intent and (b) actually catching him red handed stealing said
seeds. Percy's defense that
the Monsanto seeds mostly likely blew in on his fields from elsewhere
seems logical enough, but also comes across as circumstantial.
Monsanto feels taken advantage of to the point of requesting an
ungodly amount of money from this senior citizen, which doesn't reflect
well on them as a company. Unfortunately
for Percy (and especially after his first legal loss), his reputation
takes an even costlier hit, with many nearby farmers and people that he
and his wife once called allies and friends now don't want to have
anything to with them. This makes Percy feeling like he has a Scarlet Letter, of
sorts, branded on him, and that precipitates his willingness to join
forces with Rebecca to wage a different kind of war against Monsanto's and
all other gluttonous companies that want to take advantage of farmers.
core relationships set within the story give PERCY a sense of urgency,
especially with Percy and Louise's ties with Jackson (he's a good man that
wants to help, but is pragmatic enough to know the Herculean legal
challenge ahead) and Rebecca, with the latter seeming more like she's in
it to use Percy as a larger springboard to initiate broad conversations in
the world about farmer's rights and corporate injustice (she does, though,
pointedly inform Percy that she can offer no legal assistance of any kind,
but rather a conduit for him to raise money and speak his mind to so many
around the world that also feel stepped on by forces outside of their
This builds towards some of the more interesting subplots in PERCY,
which involves the farmer journeying to foreign countries like India to
see how that nation's farmers have been used and abused in a similar
manner (at this point Percy begins to see the sheer magnitude of his
mission at hand).
All of this is driven home by Walken's economical and calmly
authoritative performance as this beleaguered, but driven man.
Even when most of the film built around Percy is fairly
conventional, Walken's nonchalant appeal and no-nonsense gumption here
wins the day and elicits deep audience interest.
Plus, it's refreshing to see the veteran actor play an everyman
after a recent career of taken roles that have become almost a parody of
At least Walken and those picturesque Saskatchewan vistas are eminently watchable here.