Director Ramin Bahrani‘s (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo) latest drama At Any Price is a disappointing attempt at a strained father-son tale that takes place in the agricultural landscape of a small town in Iowa. Henry Whipple, portrayed by Dennis Quaid, is a farmer with a very ambitious “expand or die” mentality. Henry will do whatever he needs to do to remain the top Liberty Seeds salesman in seven counties. He shows up at farmers funerals to give his condolences and to buy the land off the family. He pays any price to insure the success of his three-generation family farm.
At Any Price is a tale about a father and son strain through many generations, with Henry always trying to please his father Cliff played by Red West, and butting heads with his racecar-driving son Dean portrayed by Zac Efron. The unhappy Henry awaits the return of his oldest son to the family. To fill his time, he tries to persuade Dean that farming is in his blood and to give up racing. It is revealed that Henry is also cheating on his wife Irene played by Kim Dickens with the all over town woman Meredith Crown played by Heather Graham. Genetically modified seeds, car races, relationship tensions, and death add to the list of problems at the Whipple Farm.
The story starts out following a standard Hollywood structure but then makes attempts to break away. Although there are quite a few things happening in the film, few are truly engaging. We quickly learn early in the film of the strained father-son relationship and much of it is set up in a way that could have lead us on a riveting journey. Unfortunately, this story peaks early and instead travels down a path filled with unnecessary events that end without a clear resolution. We meet many characters but few if any are well developed. Henry Whipple, the very aggressive farmer, is cheating on his wife Irene with no answer as to why.
Dean also makes increasingly poor decisions when it comes to women. The women in the film are very weak roles and are very two-dimensional characters that had potential to add a great deal to the tension of the story but instead fall flat. The central crisis of the film is predictable and events following it seem slightly unbelievable. At times I was wondering what the theme and point of the story was and found myself checking my watch multiple times.
Dennis Quaid‘s performance as the “go-get-em” farmer and seed salesman is satisfactory. Quaid’s smile shines through in many occasions including run-ins with Liberty Seed Agents and a tense conversation with a competing farmer played by Clancy Brown. Unfortunately, this does not compensate for Zac Efron‘s poor acting. Efron starts out strong with what could have been a very enjoyable part as a struggling young son that wants to leave the farm and try his hand at racing. His performance quickly turns into an overacted angst-ridden performance with overreactions to most situations. An out of nowhere overreaction to a surprise visitor and a conversation concerning the future of the farm firmly made me believe that Efron needed more direction with his delivery.
A positive note for the film was the set and realistic agricultural scenery. The film was shot on location and seemed as if they were working real farms. The cinematography brought a warm feel to the film at times and overall added nicely to the mood. One helicopter shot in particular was very nice showing all of the Whipple property and rays of sun though clouds.
Overall, At Any Price is not worth the admission price. It had a story that had a great deal of potential but was poorly executed. Combined with the lack of character development and resolution, At Any Price is a poorly delivered and forgettable story filled with characters with few redeeming qualities.
At Any Price – 6.1/10