Title: AT ANY PRICE
Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Screenwriter: Ramin Bahrani
Cast: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Ben Marten, Kim Dickens, Chelcie Ross, Red West, Maika Monroe, Sophie Curtis
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 4/4/13
Opens: April 24, 2013
Movies have glorified capitalism (“Wall Street”) and trashed the system (anything by Michael Moore), but “At Any Price” represents one of the few times that capitalism has been regarded as literally seedy. The story takes place on an Iowa farm, and aside from being an entertaining yarn anchored by an exceptional performance from Dennis Quaid, it provides us city slicking Yankees with quite a bit of knowledge of farmland politics on what we contemptuously and erroneously call flyover country.
“At Any Price” is also a look at parent-child relationships, specifically about a father’s desire to pass on farmland held in his family for generations against his son’s motivation to make a career of racing stock cars. If you think that speeding around a stadium filled by an appreciative, cheering audience is more exciting than being a farmer, director Ramin Bahrani will show you how an enterprising—or greedy depending on your politics—husbandman is excited by his career as a crack salesman who follows his ideology, which is expand or die.
Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) is not what you’d call a good man, though he does show his talent for protecting his son, Dean (Zac Efron) at any price. The Whipple farm stands at 3,500 acres, with Henry on the lookout for additional properties even if he must chase a hearse to get a grieving family to buy an expired farmer’s lot. Besides farming the land, he makes most of his living by selling genetically modified seeds. He skirts the law by cleaning second-hand seeds (I’ll bet you city people never heard of this), though Liberty Seed, which developed the product, has the right to ban this practice. Users must buy fresh seed from Liberty each time that it’s needed.
This traditionally made film is filled with conflicts: between Henry and his son, Henry and farmers who are his seed customers, Henry and another son who has gone mountain climbing in Argentina just to get away from the family, Henry as husband to Irene Whipple (Kim Dickens) but who takes advantage of promiscuous neighbor Meredith Crown (Heather Graham). Henry Whipple is a man who needs to face the kind of trouble that could get him to give up his greedy ways and repent. Though Irene secretly finances her son’s ambition to be a NASCAR driver by financing his entry into a major competition, Dean, whose vivacious girlfriend Cadence (Maika Monroe) encourages the lad’s dream, is surprisingly torn between his wish for a dangerous and exciting career and his buried interest in carrying on the family farm name. Zac Efron as Dean is arguably the handsomest young man in Hollywood and does quite well in playing off the more experienced Quaid.
As photographer, Michael Simmonds makes the scene look authentic. The film was shot near DeKalb Illinois on a real, working farm, with acreage so vast that we don’t wonder that we need only two percent of our population to feed a nation of three hundred million. “At Any Price” is stunning film, a valentine to that small number of people who may compromise their ideals but who work hard, love their families, and embrace the closeness to their land.
Rated R. 105 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+