Opening July 1, 2021
Directed by: Clark Johnson
Writing credits: Garfield Lindsay Miller, Hilary Pyror
Principal actors: Christopher Walken, Christina Ricci, Zach Braff, Luke Kirby, Martin Donovan, Roberta Maxwell
Farmers are proficient time managers; approximately 90 days after planting comes harvesting, oftentimes in competition with conditions beyond their control; the opening sequence speaks volumes for farmers’ plight. Winter thaws can destroy crops and property as much as heavy, unexpected summer rainstorms, alongside droughts. The terrible truth is, farmers cannot turn on air-conditioners or raise umbrellas. Plus, some farm equipment costs more than a house, and livestock require food/water to survive.
Imagine then, when 70-year-old Percy Schmeiser (Oscar® winning Christopher Walken), an independent farmer in Bruno, Saskatchewan, Canada, gets a letter from the behemoth conglomerate US Monsanto, claiming he stole the company’s special genetically modified (GMO) canola seeds, thereby demanding $19,000.00, plus seizure of his seeds, in restitution. This to someone whose immigrating ancestors brought seeds knowing the correlative value of good seeds bearing good crops. Percy readily admits, “I’m a seed saver,” and wife Louise (Roberta Maxwell) works hand in hand accumulating seeds. Indignant, he makes a phone call, subsequently hires an attorney (Zach Braff). Farmhand Alton (Adam Beach) and wife Brenda (Andrea del Campo) standby, while Peter (Luke Kirby) and granddaughter Mary (Zoe Fish) are patiently supportive. Percy is contacted by an environmental non-profit, eventually agreeing to Rebecca’s (Christina Ricci) help. Along the way, the Schmeisers earn unwanted notoriety, and meet many nice people from around the world also disenfranchised by Monsanto shenanigans. Pressed, Percy takes the unprecedented step of accepting speaking engagements, including at a symposium in India, where a farmer’s father (Pathy Aiyar) shows him the tragic consequences wrecked by Monsanto. Meanwhile, the Schmeisers’ are perplexed by neighbors’ ostracism in their small community. Regardless, Percy, with Louise beside him, steadfastly stubborn follows his moral compass facing off against Monsanto-hired bullies’ threats and badgering, until the biotechnology company sues in 1998, which eventually takes them before the Supreme Court in 2004.
Director Clark Johnson, working from Garfield Lindsay Miller and Hilary Pyror’s simplistic, scantly detailed screenplay, struggles telling this complicated story since relevantly factual background about Monsanto’s deceitful practices, farming and genetically modified seeds effect and on humans’ food, and the Schmeisers’ status in the area—business owners; he held numerous political positions and stood up for farmers’ rights—is missing. Leading the strong cast, the debonair Christopher Watkins, known for quirky-cum-dancing-cum-crime characters, easily slips into Percy’s well-worn working garb and principled personality to carry the film. Shot in Winnipeg, Canada, cinematographer Luc Montpellier and Steven MacKinnon’s music is up to scratch, while Geoff Ashenhurst, Maureen Grant and Susan Maggi’s editing is weedy.
Percy Schmeiser rightfully gained cult hero status during the years he battled against Monsanto. He received the Mahatma Gandhi Award in 2000 for contributions to society, and Percy and Louise received the international Right Livelihood Award, publicized as an "Alternative Nobel Prize,” in 2007. Percy vs. Goliath shows civil, moral courage can cultivate results, and overall, it is worth learning about looming implications in sustainable agriculture. 99 minutes ()