At Any Price
Set among the sprawling cornfields of rural Iowa, At Any Price seeks to explore issues that are equally epic in scale and fundamental to the heart of America. The film tells the tale of Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid), a farmer and super-slick seed salesman, riding roughshod over rules and morals as he builds an empire to pass on to his son (Zac Efron). That his resentful progeny is crying out less for a legacy to inherit than simply for his Dad to take interest in his burgeoning career as a stock car driver is apt, because this is a film that would have benefited from more attention from its production team.
Director Ramin Bahrani made his name with gritty, neo-realistic independents such as the excellent Chop Shop (2007), and there is a definite feeling that having a giant Hollywood budget at his disposal for the first time may be what is primarily responsible for the unfocused and uneven result here. At Any Price bites off more than it can chew by too often eschewing the quietly compelling family melodrama at its core to concentrate on cartoonish and obnoxiously loud racetrack action sequences, and an equally jarring crime-thriller twist.
While Quaid does well, turning in a career highlight of a performance at the head of the film, the other roles are flimsy and underwritten. Zac Efron’s Dean lacks the depth in back-story to justify his delinquency or his constant wordless brooding, and Heather Graham is criminally wasted as “other woman” Meredith – more a single-service plot device than an actual character.
There is a degree of visual artistry to be enjoyed. The vast swathes of green in the landscape make for an appealing natural backdrop to the human drama, and a pair of bold vignettes (set among the crowds of the stadium and the church respectively) cut to the crux of the American Dream in profound fashion. Though such loftily ambitious seeds are sown in places, they ultimately fail to bear fruit as this confused muddle stalls before getting out of second gear.
At Any Price is released nationwide on 1st January 2016.
Watch the trailer for At Any Price here: