Clark Johnson’s farm-meets-courtroom drama Percy vs. Goliath has an interesting enough story at its root, but the finished crop is missing something special.
There are certain descriptors that, when used in certain contexts, make something seem worse than it is. Describing Percy vs. Goliath as ‘fine’ might sound disparaging, but Clark Johnson’s film is exactly that: an interesting enough story that just feels like it needs… more.
Percy (Christopher Walken) and Louise (Roberta Maxwell) Schmeiser own and operate a small farm in rural Saskatchewan, Canada. Percy takes pride in being a ‘seed saver’, which involves collecting the seeds from a year’s successful harvest and reusing them the next year. It’s the way in which his father, and his father before him, taught him how to farm. But when behemoth agricultural corporation Monsanto sue Percy after traces of their GMO (genetically modified) canola seeds are found within his crops, Percy finds himself the voice of disenfranchised farmers all over the world as the case makes its way to the Supreme Court.
Based on a true story, Percy vs. Goliath is quintessentially the story of the little guy taking on The Man; of ‘shop local’ vs. global capitalism, of the hand vs. the mouth it feeds. There’s little frills about Percy, nor the way in which he farms, nor the town he lives in. It’s established that he’s well liked and respected within the community, but as a film lead he falls a bit flat. It’s hard to tell whether it’s Walken’s performance that feels a bit stilted, or whether it’s an accurate portrayal of the man himself that simply doesn’t lend itself to big-screen drama. It isn’t lacklustre, necessarily, it just doesn’t ever gain the momentum one might come to expect from this kind of story.
All the performances from the supporting cast around Walken are subtle, – Zach Braff as a small-time lawyer trying his best to do right by his client, and Christina Ricci as a tenacious environmental activist – and so the film in general feels pretty low-key. Similarly, so are its visuals, and the narrative doesn’t make any significant effort to expand on the idea of a little guy vs. a behemoth in any manner outside the context of the film. The end result, then, is a pleasant enough watch that doesn’t lend itself to anything particularly memorable. It’s enjoyable without being particularly exciting.
A fine film, as frustrating a descriptor as that may be.
Percy vs. Goliath will be in Select US Theaters, on Digital and On Demand from April 30, 2021.