Percy vs. Goliath

At the Movies Blog

Christopher Walken in an understated performance as a farmer.

I read an interview with Christopher Walken a few months back and they asked him about movies he did that didn’t get a lot of attention. He said he has no control over what people go to see, or how his films are marketed, but he did mention being disappointed that The Family Fang (Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn) wasn’t seen by many. I agree. It was a terrific movie from a few years ago (go find it). 

This is a picture that I’m guessing nobody will see. It’s got very limited appeal, and you’re not seeing the Walken we love most. He’s a farmer, but not one that’s going to jump onto a John Deere and drive into a rival farmer’s barn, or grab a pitchfork and stab someone in a drunken rage. This is an understated performance, with less energy than usual from the acting legend.

This is a true story, and Walken plays Percy Schmeiser who became involved in a big legal battle over canola seeds. His battle against Monsanto, who claimed he used their genetically modified seeds for his crops without paying for them, goes on for years. His lawyer (Zach Braff) is a small town guy who’s in over his head, and feels guilty with all the court costs the family is incurring. He also doesn’t think it’s such a good idea to try taking this to the Supreme Court.

As someone who doesn’t know a lot about farming (the extent of my knowledge is what I learned in the lyrics of the Spinal Tap song “Sex Farm”), I did find it a bit interesting to learn that there are engineered seeds that are pesticide-resistant, so the weeds can be killed, with no harm to the crops. And that if they are patented, and a farmer is using them…even if they accidentally blow onto your crops, that doesn’t give you the right to use them.

Now, one of my pet peeves with stories based on real events, is all the fictional drama filmmakers add. Yet this movie didn’t do that, and it sort of suffers for it, because it’s not all that entertaining. There’s the occasional farmer shouting something out his truck window at Percy, or his wife getting upset with his stubbornness…but overall, it’s rather boring watching this story unfold. Even when Christina Ricci, playing a green activist, shows up to try to help the beleaguered farmer in Saskatchewan. Her character isn’t all that interesting, and neither is Louise (Roberta Maxwell), the long suffering wife. There’s decent supporting work from Luke Kirby (Lenny Bruce on The Fabulous Mrs. Maisel), although he’s not given a lot to do.

Cinematographer Luc Montpellier gives us some nice shots of India, as well as the prairies. 

The script also had a few moments of levity. Of course, I chuckled in a moment I wasn’t supposed to. When Walken says that “my father was a farmer, and his father before him”…I immediately thought of him with the watch in Pulp Fiction.

Overall, this movie has fine performances, and it’s heart is the right place. It’s just a bit slow. 

2 stars out of 5.

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