‘Percy vs. Goliath’: Christopher Walken keeps it down to earth as a farmer battling a conglomerate

The veteran of the fields won’t back down when accused of stealing seeds in the inspiring courtroom drama.

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Christopher Walken plays a longtime farmer sued by Monsanto and accused of stealing its patented seeds in “Percy vs. Goliath.”

Saban Films

On a couple of occasions in the low-key charmer “Percy vs. Goliath,” it sounds like someone is calling Christopher Walken a “scene stealer,” which could hardly be considered inaccurate given Walken’s fantastically colorful career and his penchant for putting classic Walken spins on many a line.

“We’re watching you, scene stealer!” says a creepy guy in a van that rolls past Walken and then speeds off.

‘Percy vs. Goliath’

Untitled

Saban Films and Paramount Pictures present a film directed by Clark Johnson and written by Garfield Lindsay Miller and Hilary Pryor. Rated PG-13 (for some thematic elements). Running time: 99 minutes. Opens Friday at the Picture Show theater in Bloomingdale and on demand.

Oh wait. It’s not “scene stealer,” it’s SEED stealer. They’re calling Walken’s Percy Schmeiser a “seed stealer,” which is about the worst thing you can say about a farmer and can lead to lawsuits and financial ruin and shame and scandal.

SEED STEALER. Got it.

Based on a true story and firmly in “Erin Brockovich” territory, “Percy vs. Goliath” is the fictionalized story of an old-fashioned Canadian farmer who has been working the family land for 50 years — like his father and his father’s father and his father’s father’s father did before him — but sees his life turned upside down when he’s sued by the giant Monsanto Co. for allegedly using its patented, pesticide-resistant seeds without remuneration. Percy says those seeds must have blown onto his land from nearby farms, as seeds have done for millennia; Monsanto says it doesn’t matter HOW the seeds got there, and off to court (after court after court) we go.

With only an inexperienced local lawyer named Jackson Weaver (Zach Braff) on his side against a battery of high-priced attorneys led by the smug Rick Aarons (Martin Donovan, the excellent character actor who often plays the rigid bad guy), Percy is facing a huge uphill struggle, which we kinda figured out already given the title of this movie. But at the persistent urging of the ambitious and idealistic anti-GMO activist Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci), Percy becomes a reluctant but effectively sincere representative of small farmers everywhere, going on a global speaking tour that takes him all the way to India, as his loyal and loving wife (Roberta Maxwell) sorts through the hundreds of letters and small donations sent by supporters all over the world.

Still, Monsanto wins time and again, as Percy racks up huge legal expenses and is forced to turn over all of his beloved seeds, which he has cultivated with care and innovation from year to year and crop to crop. His attorney and his grown son (Luke Kirby) and even Rebecca eventually urge Percy to give up and cut his losses, but it wouldn’t be much of a movie if Percy just surrendered to Goliath, right?

“Percy vs. Goliath” doesn’t have the visceral impact of the aforementioned “Erin Brokovich” or the more recent (and equally good) “Dark Waters.” In those films, corporate hubris and neglect resulted in shocking illnesses and gruesome deaths. Not for a moment would I minimize the devastation a family farmer would experience in losing everything, but the mostly faceless Monsanto doesn’t come across as deliberately villainous so much as robotically greedy. Still, this is an involving and inspirational tale, highlighted by a Christopher Walken performance that is remarkably free of any showy tics or mannerisms and is a reminder Walken is a great actor first, a lovable caricature second.

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