by Jamale Stanley
“Percy Vs Goliath” is based on the events that unfolded between farmer Percy Schmeiser and the multi-billion-dollar agrochemical company, Monsanto. (Monsanto has been dissolved since being acquired by Bayer in 2018 and folded into the crop science division). The catalyst to this confrontation was the patented canola plants that grew in Schmeiser’s farm. That patent was predicated on the genetically modified plants’ ability to resist the glyphosate in Monsanto’s Roundup. Monsanto sought to have Schmeiser pay for the license to grow and use the genetically modified canola and when he refused, thus began a series of legal battles that focused on property rights versus intellectual property rights which eventually reached the Supreme Court of Canada. Additionally, the case (and Schmeiser himself) brought a greater awareness to the international debates about GMO and non-GMO agriculture as well as the roles of multinational companies like Monsanto inhabited in these systems.
I find myself wondering if the movie relies too much on the trope that the protagonist, ensnared within the mechanisms of something much more grand, is reluctantly impelled into a greater cause. Written by Garfield Lindsay Miller and Hilary Pryor, the screenplay casts Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) as a stubbornly insular and stoic person of few, yet sincere words whose main goal is simply to quietly settle the issue with Monsanto and return to farming. This tension is the core of Schmeiser for the duration of the movie. In fact, one gets the sense that if not for his community accusing him of being a thief and liar as well as the manipulation by the environmental activist, Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci), then he would have submitted to Monsanto with little protest after his first loss in court.
This simplistic tension nearly diminishes the impact of the story and the realities that Schmeiser and his family faced. Indeed, the movie Schmeiser is never comfortable in his activism and his speeches are small and modest. Even his crossing the Rubicon speech in India is lackluster which is especially frustrating considering that the real life Schmeiser was a passionate and well-informed activist and speaker. Furthermore, he was active in local politics, having been the mayor of Bruno, Saskatchewan for nearly twenty years prior to Monsanto products’ arrival in the town. This would seem to be a far cry from the Schmeiser in the movie that is so insular that getting a driving license was too much of a spotlight upon him.
Despite the odd choice of depiction, the movie is well worth watching. I believe that the story could have been better and more illustrative of the issues of GMOs and the corporate entities behind them had the screenplay been more faithful to historical events and those involved. However, the movie does enough to introduce those issues in a way that is more suitable for an audience that may not be aware of them. Also, Christopher Walken and Christina Ricci are marvelous in their respective roles and the cast overall is much the same. The aesthetics of the movie are captivating, and the pace carries well enough since most attention is focused on the main characters rather than the details of the laws at issue between Schmeiser and Monsanto.
Jamale Stanley is a Graduate Student at the University of South Florida focusing on the intersections of religion, ecology, and philosophy.