At Any Price
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani Cast: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Heather Graham, Maika Monroe, Red West, Clancy Brown, Kim Dickens Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: R Release Date: May 3, 2013 (Chicago)
PLOT: A desperate corn salesman (Quaid) is investigated for foul play while his son (Efron) refuses to take up on the family business.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of American independent dramas, especially those that have significance that reaches nationwide. Also, if you like Dennis Quaid, here is one of his best performances in years.
At Any Price is a movie that means well, and it means to be smarter than it looks. Here is an American corporate drama that plays out in the corn crazy fields of Iowa, but offers ideas fitting to any battling businesses in the current economic climate. This is a movie that effectively shows why capitalism causes people to do awful things, either to save themselves, or to hurt their competitors, or both. And all through the lives of men who make their living off selling corn seeds to various neighboring farms; business is business. Or, in the more specific phrase of the farmers who are shown trying to gain control of each other's territories, expand or die. If only this movie expanded upon some of its efforts, it would have a better fate than being a shaky drama of underwhelming storytelling.
One of the film's biggest strokes of sharpness is the casting of Quaid as its main subject. He has a smile one can hide the largest of secrets behind, his wrinkled face and piercing eyes for a deceptively warm grin perfect for any businessman. At the same time, he has a large masculine presence, an example of hard working fortitude. He is like any average handsome man who has earned his success, and will do anything to keep it. That being said, given the turn of events of this film, Quaid can gain pity from his audience quite well. Quaid's Whipple is a pathetic man with a journey that intrigues us, both for its steadfastness, but also for the reason that we expect we'll be watching him completely fall apart.
Aside from a select few other characters, there is a strange drop-off of believable beings in this story, with some of the characters too readily showing their roots as cliche.
Take, for example, Efron's brooding teenager, who flies off the handle numerous times in the film with results more tragically comical than successfully introspect to his character's emotion. Instead, he is more directly the composite of a shallow vision of adolescents as opposed to actual ones, which right there takes away the power of the film's entire subplot, not to mention a tragedy in the third act that aims to take At Any Price to a gravely serious direction.
Along with Efron's explosive angst machine, there are other roles that send At Any Price towards unfortunate melodrama, instead of potent, calm drama. Heather Graham plays the Lonely Whore, as the town bicycle who apparently lives a sad life on her own. Yawn. Or, there's Maika Monroe, in the role of Snappy Upstart, who joins Henry on various sales, and proves to be a surrogate of the caring offspring Henry never had. But most comically, is Henry's father, played by Red West, who provides a ridiculous impression of former farmers being disappointed by current ones. His character pops into the story to express disappointment, in a way that seems to have no other purpose than guilt. In a reference to the incredible Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, it becomes surprising this disappointed daddy doesn't also scream at Henry, "The wrong kid died!"
This lightness in elaboration, not for the sake of ambiguity but more for the sake of easy construction, haunts the third act. Admittedly, the crazy events of the third act make the film a bit more interesting to watch, but they turn out to be a gamble that the script itself can not support. The events are not believable, nor can we accept that these characters would do the things they do. Yes, there is a strong scene in which the film's creedo is laid bare bones, "Business is business." But the road of which the film takes to get to this moment has too many distracting plot holes. Why don't movie characters celebrate the idea of using cell phones more often, especially during emergencies, you know, like normal people?
At Any Price is the type of halfway there indie movie with a rich message, but cheap storytelling. The film tries to sneak in clunky melodrama that doesn't work. Instead, it continually dulls the blade this movie is hoping to drive straight into the heart of America's violently competitive economic scene.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10