UN dispute between a Canadian farmer and an agribusiness behemoth over intellectual property rights might sound a trifle dull, but Percy vs Goliath just goes to show casting can make all the difference. That’s not to say the film has necessarily made a convincing casting choice by hiring New Yorker Christopher Walken to play real life Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser. Unlike Matt Damon, say, who put on weight and nailed a midwestern accent for his turn as another guy mixed up in a dispute with a sinister agricultural organisation in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! (which this overlaps with somewhat), Walken makes no effort to sound Canadian or even look like the real-life figure he’s playing. tuttavia, Walken keeps you watching thanks to his inherent charisma, still undimmed in his late 70s.
For those not up to speed on the news story and legal case that inspired this, the film does a reasonably competent job of outlining the basics. Being the sort of farmer who saved his seeds, just like his pappy told him to, Percy preserved some of one particular crop that turned out to be contaminated with a new genetically modified strain that Monsanto had recently created and sold to one of Percy’s neighbours. He couldn’t prove that he hadn’t misappropriated the seeds, so they took him to court for patent infringement and the fees he would be liable for keep racking up as he works his way through the many tiers of legal appeal, right up to the supreme court. En route, we see him become something of a folk hero, who gradually comes to understand how important his case is to others who have been ploughed under by the machinations of Big Agriculture, particularly in places such as India, which he visits for an epiphany two-thirds of the way into the film.
Should you grow a little weary of watching Walken look aw-shucksy and noble, there are a few other fine performances to enjoy, including Zach Braff as Percy’s country mouse lawyer and Christina Ricci as a peppy environmentalist who persuades Percy to keep fighting. Roberta Maxwell is less well served as Percy’s longsuffering wife Louise, who mostly stands around looking worried when she’s not going to church. In truth, the whole this is a bit boilerplate – but it has its heart in the right place.