At Any Price
Starring Dennis Quiad, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham
I didn’t believe writer/director Ramin Bahrani when he told me that this was a much darker role for superstar Zac Efron (The Lucky One, The Paperboy) and Dennis Quaid (Far From Heaven, Soul Surfer). The film is set up as a family drama where a generational family farmer wants nothing more than his sons to take over after he is gone. However, At Any Price pushes the boundaries of what the audience is willing to tolerate this family getting away with, and the message of the film never seems to produce any repercussions. “Why are my own children trying to sabotage me?”, he asks, unaware that poor parenting skills have and continue to lead to the moral demise of the family.
Whipple and Sons have been farming in Southern Iowa for generations; now headed by Henry (Quaid), who boasts of his leading majority in 17 counties, he wants to pass the legacy to his eldest, who has left Iowa to explore the world. Henry’s younger son Dean (Efron) is the spitting image of his father, but doesn’t want anything to do with the business; instead, he races cars. “I put myself in these cars so I don’t have to talk to you," he says. Some illegal activity Henry has been doing has been discovered and he is being investigated, not to mention cheating on his wife (Dickens) with the local girl everyone seems to visit. Although they all seem to despise each other, Henry and Dean still protect one another even when it means ruining others.
Provides Quaid quite a few good scenes, making him better than he has been in a while.
While this role is something very dark for Efron, he is still playing the hunk as he has in every film since he graduated from High School Musical to film. Quaid is actually cast here quite perfectly as a sleazy farming version of a business shark (i.e. the type Nicholas Cage usually plays). It’s the inner conflict that Henry is tormented with that provides Quaid quite a few good scenes, making him better than he has been in a while. These characters are so ruthless, however, that there is only one person the audience can sympathize with, and that’s Dean’s girlfriend (Monroe), who comes from a terrible family but has the best moral compass.
Bahrani’s view of women as a whole in the film is a bit twisted; they are either whores or the women who take up for their men even when they know they are wrong. At Any Price does get a pretty interesting and detailed look at big and small farming in America and the vicious competitiveness between the two. The film seems to want to explore ruthlessness, but it does so in a way that seems to praise the behavior of this family. I am not sure what audiences or even I am supposed to take away from this except that to win in life you have to destroy those around you.
One of the darkest films at SXSW 2013.