At Any Price is a melodrama set in Iowa. So it has crops, flags, churches, and is corn-fed. It's as wayward and off-the-wall as an Iowa caucus.
At Any Price is the story of a farm dynasty gone wobbly. Over the years times have changed, and now farms employ modern equipment and procedures. It's now the age of GMOs -- genetically modified organisms.
To try to stay ahead, Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) has acted illegally in an attempt to save money and keep control of the selling of seeds in his area.
The Whipple farm has been passed down from generation to generation. Flawed male character also has been passed on. His father orders Henry to keep the farm, in the name of family, no matter what it takes.
The older of Henry's two sons has bolted and is climbing mountains in South America. The younger son Dean (Zac Efron) also has dreams. He wants to be a stock car driver, but he lacks the will of his departed brother. He is the bruised apple of his father's eye. Henry prattles a lot about "loyalty." Will Dean stay in line to take over the farm? What will fate decree?
It's not necessary, but it helps to have a character to root for. At Any Price becomes a "who cares?" movie.
The only character who shows any affecting humanity is Henry's rival Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown), whose son has disappeared. The scene in which he is stricken by his son's absence is a rare genuine moment in a disingenuous movie.
Dennis Quaid's Henry waffles between braggadocio and ignorance. Quaid, who once was an interesting actor, has turned waxen. Maybe it was tv's Vegas, cancelled after one season, but Quaid could now be a figure in the Wax Museum without changing anything.
With cocked head and his Raggedy Andy smile, Quaid delivers his lines without thought in a rote manner.
Efron skids through an erratic role.
The women in the film have more focus than the fallible men. Kim Dickens -- who was magical in HBO's Treme -- is suitable in a limited role as the loyal wife. And Maika Monroe adds some spirit as Dean's girlfriend.
Director/writer Ramin Bahrani creates an uneven tone. Another director/writer might have made a sharper, more credible film.
At Any Price is the kind of film that doesn't take risks. When Dean has a sex scene in his truck, the girl takes off her shirt. But not her bra. Remember that target audience.
Just like the seeds, At Any Price is genetically modified reality.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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