Percy vs. Goliath movie review (2021)

There are, it appears, notable differences between the actual case and what appears onscreen. For one thing, Percy Schmeiser is depicted as a humble country farmer here, practically a John Ford or John Steinbeck character eking out a precarious living, when in reality he took over his family owned farm, gas station, and farm equipment dealership in 1954, and twelve years before Monsanto came rumbling through town had purchased a second farm equipment dealership in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. But the economic power of Monsanto is so overwhelming that these and other changes seem inconsequential: this is indeed a David and Goliath story, and Monsanto’s case seems so unreasonable and usurious on its face (the “technology fee” charged to farmers who accidentally end up with some of their seed in furrows feels like an elaborate scam) that it’s impossible to see them as anything but bullies in need of a takedown.

Walken plays against sentiment here, wisely so. And while there are a few choices that undercut the movie’s sensible aesthetic (including a score that’s too folksy-adorable for the gravity of the situation) Johnson and his collaborators (including cinematographer Luc Montpellier, who oversaw the widescreen, epic Western-style compositions) acquit themselves honorably, for the most part. Of particular interest are Percy and Jackson’s prickly relationship with Rebecca, who begins to seem as if she’s more interested in using Percy for fundraising than materially helping him win the case; and Percy’s union with his wife Louise (Roberta Maxwell), which walks a fine line between introducing reasonable notes of audience doubt and creating a “spoiler” character who seems as if she might stand in the way of a crowd-pleasing triumph (there’s social collateral damage in town, Louise suffers the brunt of it). 

Frustratingly poised on the knife’s-edge of “pretty good but not as good as you want it to be,” the movie might’ve benefitted from a more leisurely but focused pace that would’ve allowed the characters to breathe more, and the legal and scientific concepts to be explained with greater clarity. The editing, credited to three people, is sometimes choppy and scattershot, kneecapping the momentum of scenes that the actors are nailing. But the outstanding cast, handsome visuals, and unimpeachable little guy-against-the-system dramatics carry the film across the finish line.

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