‘Percy vs Goliath’ Review: Growing Pains

“Percy vs Goliath” might be based on a 1998 Canadian legal battle and its fallout, but Clark Johnson’s ambling, warmhearted movie doesn’t lean on courtroom tension for drama. Addressing high stakes — the degree to which agribusiness controls our food supply — in an extremely low key, Johnson uses one family’s plight to illustrate the predicament of an entire industry.

Christopher Walken stars as Percy Schmeiser, a curmudgeonly canola farmer in Saskatchewan. Each year, Percy plants the legacy seeds his family has saved over generations, refusing to purchase the genetically modified, pesticide-resistant variety patented and sold by Monsanto. (The company has since been acquired by Bayer.) When Monsanto investigators discover his crop contains the modified gene (which Percy claims was an accidental contamination from a neighboring farm), Percy is vaulted into a yearslong struggle to protect his farm, his livelihood and, not least, his integrity.

Sentimental and a little corny in parts, “Percy” is protected from bathos by Walken’s proudly minimalist performance as an intensely private man reluctantly drawn into an uncomfortably public fight. Both Zach Braff (as Percy’s out-of-his-depth lawyer) and Christina Ricci (as a perky environmental activist with her own agenda) do their best to enliven the movie’s rather staid rhythms. And while the courtroom scenes are dusty and dull, Luc Montpellier’s generally unremarkable cinematography surprises us with some lovely prairie vistas.

Unabashedly partisan and unfailingly modest, Garfield L. Miller and Hilary Pryor’s script strives to educate, not always unobtrusively (as in a visit to India to discuss farmer suicides). The result is a movie that’s unlikely to raise your pulse, but it might just heighten your interest in what goes into your mouth.

Percy vs Goliath
Rated PG-13. No sex, no guns, no bad words and no idea why the rating. Running time: 2 hours. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play, FandangoNow and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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