At Any Price
Written by Ramin Bahrani and Hallie Elizabeth Newton
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Director Ramin Bahrani, whose previous films include Man Push Cart (2005), Chop Chop (2007) and Goodbye Solo (2008), tends to push his characters to their very limits. With his latest effort, At Any Price, he makes no exception. Here, the characters seem to barely be able to keep their heads above water, forcing them to reevaluate their decisions and begin building upon uncertain futures.
Set in a small farming community in the Midwest, At Any Price is the age old story of the struggle between fathers and sons. Dennis Quaid brilliantly plays the part of Henry Whipple, a fourth generation corn farmer obsessed with the idea of being the number one distributer of seed to seven counties in southern Iowa. The conflict is, he is facing more problems than fighting for the holding of this coveted title: he is being investigated for illegally reseeding genetically modified seeds. To make matters worse, his rebellious son Dean (Zac Efron) wants no part of the family owned business, choosing instead to race cars on a professional level in an effort to leave town as fast as he possibly can.
What Bahrani does beautifully with this film is the depiction of the crumbling American dream. The opening is set up as a montage of images showing the progression of the Whipple family throughout the years, allowing the audience a peek into their lives. Using “home-movie” footage, a mood of nostalgia is established as this American family comes to represent one that is familiar as being representative of the American ideal. There is a certain hope illustrated in these flickering images, however, there is also an underlying sense of dread present as well. Although the film is marketed as a family drama, it can also be seen in some regards as a modern day thriller. As the film progresses, so does a certain darkness that seems to loom over the picturesque setting. The wind seems to subtly shift, the cornstalks and windmills acting as visual cues.
One of the most striking aspects of At Any Price is the acting. Quaid does a remarkable job of playing the role of a former high school jock turned family man trying to keep it all together. His upbeat way of speaking and moving relays wonderfully how fearful he really is about what the future holds for his family. During his moments of silence is when he truly shines, bringing a sobering reality to the character of Henry Whipple. He plays the part honestly and with heart, it is hard not to focus on him when he is onscreen. Another wonderful performance is that of Dean’s girlfriend Cadence, played by Maika Monroe. She takes on the role in a different manner than expected; she is not only the abstract character of the ‘girlfriend’ but one of actual substance. Coming from a broken home, she spends most of her time on the Whipple farm, oftentimes not even with her boyfriend, making her a large part of the narrative. In the scenes where she tags along to help Henry out with his seed business, it is clear to see how complex she really is. She breathes fresh air into the film, bringing chemistry to every scene she is in.
Although At Any Price deals with a lot of different plot aspects, Bahrani manages to keep it all organized in a way that is both entertaining and comprehensible. The film can be seen as being split into three parts, each dealing with its own narrative, resulting in a richer understanding of both the characters and the day-to-day lives they lead. Starting out, it is a bit disjointed but by the end, everything manages to come together to form a solid and engaging story. This is a strong effort by everyone involved in the film, and it is sure to become a favorite amongst audiences.