Percy vs. Goliath, 2020.
Directed by Clark Johnson.
Starring Christopher Walken, Roberta Maxwell, Pathy Aiyar, Monique Alverez, Adam Beach, Zach Braff, Andrea del Campo, Martin Donovan, Christina Ricci, Warren Ellis and Zoe Fish.
Percy (Christopher Walker) is a seed saver, who has farmed the same land for generations. In a landmark legal case which impacted agriculture globally, he took them on and fought to retain his livelihood.
Christopher Walken is a cinematic master craftsman. From Fat Boy Slim’s Weapon of Choice through to his scene stealing turn in True Romance, that cadence leaves an indelible mark. From The Deer Hunter through to Man on Fire and onwards to King of New York, no one leaves a larger impression. He is often the best thing on screen and instantly elevates those around him effortlessly. A trick he pulls off for the umpteenth time here, in agricultural drama Percy vs. Goliath.
This courtroom character piece directed by Clark Johnson, rests squarely on the shoulders of Christopher Walken. He plays Percy Schmeiser lifelong farmer and seed saver, who is accused of using genetically modified seed for personal gain. Surrounded by an ensemble which includes Zach Braff, Christina Ricci and Roberta Maxwell this is understated stuff.
Squeezing drama out of an agricultural court case, even a landmark one, is a tough sell for any audience. Which is why Clark Johnson focuses on community, spends time building empathy and a sense of belonging in the first half. Percy is respected by the townsfolk, has generations of good faith earned through his land and life is good. What Christopher Walken does in these early stages is build a character block by block.
Fastidious, methodical and perfectly attuned to his surroundings, Percy is an everyman for that moment in time. Roberta Maxwell’s Louise is his rock in rough seas and breathes life into a union which feels tangible. Percy vs. Goliath establishes solid ground early on, defining context and imbuing events with dramatic momentum. Up against the characterisation of Percy, Zach Braff’s Jackson Weaver is given less to do.
More of a broad caricature than substantial legal presence, Jackson Weaver gets less time on the playing field. Zach Braff is a gifted physical comedian and accomplished director, but here feels weighed down by leaden dialogue and unnecessary affectations. Although he acts as a conduit for the courtroom scenes, they are short lived and glossed over in favour of more focus on Percy. This not only waters down his contribution, but adversely affects any emotional impact these legal decisions may have on an audience.
On the flipside, Christina Ricci’s Rebecca Salcau is a real fire brand. Opposite Christopher Walken playing a privately funded campaigner against GM foods, she lights up the screen. That is where much of the momentum comes from in its latter stages, as Rebecca’s agenda is slowly unpacked and shades of grey are gradually introduced.
Unfortunately, Percy vs. Goliath is never hard hitting enough in its condemnation of GM foods to move beyond those performances. Although everyone on screen delivers, it lacks backbone and bite when it comes to the punch. Interference from corporate interlopers is rarely expanded on, while tangible threat is only apparent in Martin Donovan’s Rick Aarons. Footnotes pay tribute to Percy, while statistics point out the significant change he brought about, but the outcome lacks teeth. Dark Waters struck a better balance in 2019, when Todd Haynes held nothing back. An area in which Percy vs. Goliath ultimately comes unstuck.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★