At Any Price (2012)
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Chelcie Ross, Maika Monroe, Red West, Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron
A gloomy parable telling the woes of life in small town America. Director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani’s delivers a picturesque rendering of golden-glimmering wheat fields and comforts of country living. Yet, there is a general air of melancholy that floats through this film in which stories of lust, teenage angst, and midlife crisis become implausibly intermittent.
We meet the Whipple family: third generation farmers who struggle to survive in an agricultural industry clearly dominated by farming conglomerates. Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) leads the pack as a relentless farmer turned businessman who will stop at nothing to continue his family farming legacy.
Henry’s youngest son Denis (Zac Efron) rebels against taking on family business to instead chase his dream of becoming a NASCAR driver. We arrive at a fork in the plot when Denis’ cocky attitude is confronted with evidence of both he and his father’s wrong doings, and it is here that At Any Price chooses to take an odd ride down a macabre, unexpected, and altogether ill-suited path.
Constantly wearing an ear to ear grin, Henry is easily the most intriguing character with his Jekyll and Hyde allure: we adore him as a family man yet are simultaneously repulsed by Henry’s adulterous, scum-bag behaviour. Yet the focus of the film is split between Henry and the angsty Denis, and alternating between the increasingly unpredictable acts of both father and son proves tiring and whimsical.
At Any Price transforms into tale that could be an ingeniously slow creeping nod to the inescapability of predestination and the threat of damnation small town living poses. But instead, the only thing At Any Price will leave you thinking about or questioning will be the price of the film you just paid for.