At Any Price
dir Ramin Bahrani
scr Hallie Elizabeth Newton, Ramin Bahrani
prd Christine Vachon, Ramin Bahrani, Pamela Koffler, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman, Kevin Turen
with Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Maika Monroe, Clancy Brown, Chelcie Ross, Red West, Stephen Grush, Dan Waller, Ben Marten, Patrick W Stevens
release US 24.Apr.13, UK 1.Jan.16
12/US Sony 1h45
At Any Price
Family values: Efron, Quaid and Dickens

graham monroe brown
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
At Any Price Set in the corn belt, this drama explores the dark side of the American dream, as hard-working farmers are cornered by economic pressure and corporate greed. But the main problem is that none of these people are happy with what they already have. So it's rather difficult to sympathise with their relentless self-inflicted misery.

Ambitious Iowa farmer Henry (Quaid) has high hopes for his university-educated son Grant (Stevens) and thinks younger son Dean (Efron) is a lost cause distracted by dreams of becoming a Nascar driver, something Henry's wife Irene (Dickens) secretly supports. So when Grant runs off to see the world, Henry reaches out to Dean's savvy girlfriend Cadence (Monroe) for help as he faces being squeezed out by mob-like local farmer Jim (Brown) just as a mega-corporation suspects he's illegally using copyrighted seeds. And all of this drastically shifts the relationship between Henry and Dean .

Bahrani gives the film an intriguingly gritty tone, with flawed characters doing the best they can in a difficult situation. The pacing is deliberate and gentle, with real-life rhythms, awkward interaction and a constant sense of something coming around the next corner that threatens to knock the characters further back. Although as the plot develops, these people are revealed to be the architects of their own misfortune, even with the script's continual attempts to rectify things.

Efron is well cast as the rebellious second son who's more like his dad than even he admits. He and Quaid are superb together, constantly butting heads, mainly because Henry is always trying to teach Dean (and everyone else for that matter) a life lesson. Both actors are excellent as men who are so stubborn that they're hard to like. The superb Dickens, Monroe and Graham (as Henry's mistress) do what they can with relatively limited roles.

All of this often feels over-plotted, as if the screenwriters don't want any of their characters to succeed, creating people who do a great good job of sabotaging their own chances at happiness. As the title rather obviously suggests, it's virtually impossible to maintain integrity and achieve success in a society that's so stacked against you. So the film becomes both moralistic and loudly cautionary. Although its delayed British release makes it an intriguing companion piece with Bahrani's more recent mortgage fraud drama 99 Homes.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality 23.Dec.15.15

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