Sunday, September 20, 2020

Percy: Movie Review

An important story with a simplistic focus.
What feels like ripe material for an epic courtroom thriller, Percy instead takes the road less travelled. It focuses on the people. Which feels like a very apt focus considering the challenges that the agricultural community has faced with the growth of corporate farming and the decline of family farms. It’s a story of David vs Goliath when the septuagenarian Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) took the giant corporation Monsanto to court.   2020

Directed by: Clark Johnson

Screenplay by: Garfield Lindsay Miller, Hilary Pryor

Starring: Christopher Walken, Zach Braff

Percy opens with a storm. While everyone in the small farming community in Saskatchewan, Canada was in church, Percy instead took to his fields. Percy believes the success in farming is saving his seeds from strong crops each year to use for the next year. While most others just buy their seeds from a company like Monsanto, Percy instead doesn’t give his hard-earned money over to the for-profit corporations that are drastically changing the farming landscape. However, what is most noticeable from this opening scene is the cinematography. The storm is very vividly captured and all the outdoor shots of the long-stretching fields of canola add to the beautiful simplicity of the story the film is trying to tell.

Zach Braff as JACKSON in PERCY. Image courtesy of Mongreal Media.

Percy receives a letter, a legal letter, demanding restitution for illegally using Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready canola. They sued him for patent infringement. As is common for Davids in David and Goliath stories, Percy has no legal knowledge, and has no contacts with deep pockets to win this battle. Percy turns to Jackson Weaver (Zach Braff) – presumably the only lawyer in town, whose advice is that he’s unlikely to win the court battle but since he also can’t afford to settle, off to court they go. It’s nice seeing Braff in a mature role, there’s also a comfort level with his character – a lawyer who knows he’s in over his head but still does the best he can.

Percy is an important story – the outcomes of this case have significant impacts on the future of farming worldwide. That importance does help build intrigue especially at the beginning. And then we have actors like Walken (in, dare I say, normal mode) and Christina Ricci as an American GMO-activist working for an agricultural lobbying firm whose presence can help keep audiences connected.

Unsurprisingly, especially given the title, the film focuses on Percy himself as opposed to the actual court battles. It follows his hesitant rise as a spokesperson for farmers all over the world which includes a sojourn to India. The film slows down significantly when we just follow Percy around. The interest lies in the courtroom, but the farther we get into the film, the less time we spend there. Which is disappointing because the culmination at the Supreme Court of Canada should have had the weight that that sentence implies.

Audiences looking for the simpler version of a legal drama should find comfort in the well-produced straight-forward telling of Percy. It should also be a must watch for agriculturists. For others looking for 2020’s answer to Dark Waters, this will probably be a let down since it doesn’t live up to those same cinematic heights.