Saban Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Clark Johnson
Writer: Garfield Lindsay Miller, Hilary Pryor
Cast: Christopher Walken, Pathy Aiyar, Monique Alvarez, Adam Beach, Zach Braff, Andrea del Campo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/9/21
Opens: April 30, 2021

There is a saying: if you are not a socialist when you are 18, you have no heart. If you are a socialist when you are 40, you have no brain. This sound like it could be a motto of the Republican Party, though the GOP would not likely use the first half of the statement but, instead, would be all for capitalism and the big guys. Nonetheless, even Republicans age 40 would feel a tug on their heart-strings watching a hard-working farmer whose land was in his family since the days of the Austrian Empire, now threatened with a loss of everything: the house, the farm, and if he had one, a dog. (Wait: I take that back about Republicans over 40.) In this true case which has been fictionalized for dramatic effects, Christopher Walker takes the lead role as Percy Schmeiser who lives with his encouraging wife Louise (Roberta Maxwell), receives notice in his home in the small town of Bruno, Saskatchewan (filmed in Manitoba) that the giant agri-business Monsanto is suing him. What? A multi-billion dollar company needs to bankrupt the poor guy because it feels offended by his using a patented seed without Monsanto’s license?

Since most of us are not small farmers—if indeed any such organizations still exist—we may find the legal arguments opaque. Here’s the deal, as our President would say. Percy was using Roundup herbicide to clear weeds, noticing that some canola survived the spray. The surviving Roundup Ready canola seeds are actually the Monsanto modified product. He applied the herbicide to three more acres as an experiment. Sixty percent of the canola survived. So wasn’t he using the Monsanto genetically modified seed illegally? Percy’s defense is that he did not use Roundup herbicide to the canola and therefore did not use Monsanto’s invention, which would have saved crops otherwise destroyed by the herbicide. The lower court ruled against him.

The case made headlines because this was not just one small guy, a David, battling the Goliath Monsanto. Many small farmers used the canola seeds and were threatened with similar lawsuits unless somebody stood up against the agri-business. His small-town lawyer, Zackson Weaver (Zach Braff) who remained with Percy not only in the local court but also in the provincial appeal and ultimately to the Canada’s highest court in Ottawa, at first encouraged the farmer to settle, stating that Monsanto would be willing to drop the case for ten thousand. If however, he appealed, he could be out $100,000 on the provincial level and perhaps over a million by the Ottawa court. The farmer would be helped by activist Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci). Monsanto, under its lawyer Rick Aarons (Martin Donovan), wanted Percy to pay up all the profits he made To find out the decision by the nine-member Ottawa court, which was delivered to Percy by phone, you’ll want to see the movie, but don’t assume automatically that Percy would win a miraculous victory.

This film will likely remind you of the classic case brought out by the movie “Erin Brockovich” in which an unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply. In this film, Christopher Walken really cuts a dashing figure as farmer, but then, the New York City-born actor could also play the role of a guy from a small industrial town in Pennsylvania in his best movie, Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” (1978). You come away with a disgust with the big guys like Monsanto who are likely to force almost every little guy to settle given that they have billions to fight in court and can hire the best (sometimes unscrupulous) lawyers.

120 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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