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New Release Review - AT ANY PRICE

An Iowa farming family is torn apart by the patriarch's unscrupulous business methods.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Ramin Bahrani

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Maika Monroe


While it initially intrigues, At Any Price ultimately frustrates. Its third act feels all too rushed, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a lot more of this film on the cutting room floor.




Following a pivotal incident in a lush Iowa cornfield, director Ramin Bahrani's camera pans upwards to catch a newly formed jet stream in the sky. It's unclear whether Bahrani just happened to notice this feature and decided to include it in the scene or if he added it as a digital after-effect. Either way, it makes a pretty blunt point - At Any Price is set in what's condescendingly known as 'flyover country', and its characters are trapped in a maze of maize.
Bahrani may not be the best American filmmaker working today, but he's one of the most interesting and certainly one of the most American. His characters live in the sort of towns you'd only make the turnoff for if you were caught short, and they alternate between immigrants (the latino grease monkeys of Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo's Senegalese cabbie) and white Americans of various classes. Here he presents us with a very American genre that's fallen by the wayside in recent decades - the family saga, which peaked on the big screen in the 1950s and found a new home in TV's mini-series format in the '70s before morphing into the night time soaps of the '80s.
At Any Price falls somewhere between a '50s epic like George Stevens' Giant and a '70s mini-series like Rich Man, Poor Man, but its brief running time makes it a short by comparison. The family in question here are the Whipples, led by patriarch Henry (Dennis Quaid), who runs his father's (Red West) farm, along with a lucrative seed business. It's his unscrupulous working methods regarding the latter that lands the Whipples in trouble when Henry finds himself under investigation for selling used seeds. Meanwhile, his youngest son, Dean (Zac Efron), is a promising race car driver who longs to get out of Iowa and leave his estranged father and the family business behind.
Quaid and Efron are two actors we can all too easily take for granted; it's tempting to dismiss them as no more than handsome leading men, but here they're given a chance to mine the sort of depths rarely afforded the pair. Both play characters nuanced enough to keep us guessing which is the film's antagonist and which the protagonist, and you'll probably be undecided when the credits roll. Quaid's performance is his best since 2004's under-rated In Good Company, another tale of clashing generations. In a supporting role, Maika Monroe continues to impress as Efron's maligned girlfriend, who develops a sweet friendship with Quaid by showing an enthusiasm for his business never displayed by his son. Conversely, Kim Dickens is wasted as Quaid's long-suffering wife, a character I suspect may have been more strongly developed in an earlier script draft.
While it initially intrigues, At Any Price ultimately frustrates. Its third act feels all too rushed, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a lot more of this film on the cutting room floor. This is one of those instances where you surmise a filmmaker may have chosen the wrong medium to tell their story; a two or three part TV mini series would have given Bahrani breathing room to fully realise this complex tale. As a film, it resembles a cancelled pilot for a promising series.
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