At Any Price

 

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A family drama playing out against the landscape of Iowa, this is a work that needed greater depth in the writing.

 

The American-born Iranian director Ramin Bahrani made his name with films that established his concern with social issues, features such as Man Push Cart and Goodbye Solo. Recently 99 Homes confirmed this tendency but suffered from falling into a melodramatic tone. Despite a late death and plenty of tensions, At Any Price, made in 2012 and thus preceding 99 Homes, is more even in tone but, despite Bahrani co-writing the screenplay, it seems a less personal work. Given a delayed release here and a limited one to boot, At Any Price is not a disaster, but it emerges as a pale echo of what it might have been.

  

 At Any Price

  Maika Monroe and Zac Efron get intimate

 

It is set in the farmlands of Iowa where Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) not only has his own farm but runs a competitive business selling seed. The other central figure is his rebellious second son, Dean (Zac Efron), whose interest lies not in the farm but in speedway racing. Furthermore, times are changing and the family’s future is uncertain. Dean has an older brother marked out by Henry to inherit the farm but he, currently abroad in Argentina, fails to return when expected and seems to be defying any claims that Iowa and the family have on him. However, the most overt threat comes from the fact that Henry has been defying new laws by both selling on seed and using it on his own land twice over. That this could be found out worries Henry even more than the fact that his wife (Kim Dickens) has discovered that he is having an affair.

 

The length of 104 minutes is not excessive, but there is a lack of tautness in the telling of this tale which also suffers from the two main characters, Henry and Dean, being allowed to emerge so unsympathetically. Henry’s way of presenting himself as an honest salesman sets an ironic tone that extends to the film’s view of American society as one that, contrary to the underlying reality, apes the manners of traditional respectability. But that’s not enough to sustain the film. Although deceitful, Henry is a man under pressure to maintain a farm that had belonged to his great-grandfather and his still living father before him (the latter critical of his son) and he feels let down by his children. Similarly, Dean is probably jealous of his older and more favoured brother while also aware of all the limitations inherent in living out his life in rural Iowa. This would all become dramatically meaningful if the writing had insight of the kind exhibited by Arthur Miller in his plays All My Sons and Death of a Salesman. Here, however there is no depth and the resolution when it comes seems glib and superficial.  

   

MANSEL STIMPSON               

  

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Maika Monroe, Chelcie Ross, Red West.

 

Dir Ramin Bahrani, Pro Ramin Bahrani, Pamela Koffler, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman, Kevin Turen and Christine Vachon, Screenplay Hallie Elizabeth Newton and Ramin Bahrani, Ph Michael Simmonds, Pro Des Chad Keith, Ed Affonso Gonçalves, Music Dickon Hinchliffe, Costumes Tere Duncan and Sandy Lazar.

 

Big Indie Pictures/Black Bear Pictures/Cineric/Killer Films/Noruz Films/Treehouse Pictures-StudioCanal.

104 mins. USA/UK. 2012. Rel: 1 January 2016. Cert. 18.