Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Kim Dickens, Zac Efron, Maika Monroe, Clancy Brown, Chelcie Ross
Written & Directed by Ramin Bahrani (Strangers, Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo)
The title of the film, At Any Price (opening today), implies that on some level, somebody is going to be willing to do anything for what they desire, at all costs and disregarding all consequences. This assumption would be correct, but it also applies to the film's writer and director, Ramin Bahrani, who uses reckless abandon in what he is trying to do and say. The result is film that drifts in multiple, contradictory and sometimes pointless directions, trying quite literally to do everything and anything it wants. It's like the narrative itself has A.D.D, never quite wanting to hone in on one particular theme, getting distracted by flashes of light and running off towards it, all the while - at any price - attempting to produce a weighty, dramatic endeavor.
The film begins with a compelling-enough premise. Farmer Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) is wheeling and dealing, trying to keep his family farm alive. His oldest son seems to have escaped the "family business," keeping in touch via postcards as he attempts to climb a mountain in Argentina. His other son, Dean (Zac Efron), is present physically, but mentally he couldn't leave sooner. Dean detests being a farmer and instead has a desire - and a talent - as a stock car racer.
But the Whipple farm suddenly falls under investigation for illegal cropping activity. The rub is that Henry is guilty, but as the film's eccentric hero, we root for him. He suspects that a rival farmer (Clancy Brown) may have been the one to tip off the authorities, and Henry fights to find out just who in his small town would betray him.
When the film is dealing with the topic of crops, illegal farming and Whipple's relationship to the competing farmer, At Any Price felt like it had some real potential as compelling drama. But it simply meanders around and heads off to follow characters and plots that don't serve this central premise.
As we think the film is about Whipple's farm, we are then sent off in a direction that more closely aligns with Days of Thunder, as Dean tries to make it as a racer. His girlfriend Cadence (Maika Monroe) is interesting enough, especially when Henry recruits her and she has quite a knack for sales.
But sadly, too many characters go nowhere while others, like Dean, are explored more than needed. Heather Graham, for example, is some sort of prostitute (?) or just a very friendly girl interested in all generations of Whipples. She appears and reappears and serves no real purpose, nor does she propel the story forward. Kim Dickens - a talented actress - is the supportive wife, but is given not much else to do.
At some point, the film then turns into some sort of father/son film. We are then introduced to another under-developed character with Grandpa Whipple, who again does nothing for the film.
As the melodrama builds, the film then takes a deep, sharp turn towards the end and moves it into the realm of pulpy trash. We understand the title of the film, finally, when we see the lengths that the characters go to protect their farm. But the deep, dark secret that they end up living with? It makes no sense. See the film, and you tell me if even the most bumbling of detectives couldn't figure out what went wrong.
At Any Price tries to ratchet up the drama at every turn, but not one maneuver makes much sense. This is a watchable film, but surprisingly it will be watched in theaters, instead of on Lifetime where a movie of this nature was meant to exist.
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