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Movie review: ‘At Any Price’

Posted 2:27pm on Thursday, May. 09, 2013

R (sexual content including a strong, graphic image; strong language); 115 min.

At Any Price is an engrossing if somewhat over-the-top “trouble on the farm” melodrama. The troubles facing this corner of Iowa fall just short of biblical as they pack in everything but a drought and a plague of locusts.

Indie director Ramin Bahrani leaves behind the spare, mournful character studies that made his name — films like Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo. Here, he’s a kid in a cinematic candy store, delivering an embarrassment of character-actor riches.

Dennis Quaid is Henry Whipple, not the stoic, righteous farmer of our collective memory but a grinning, back-slapping hustler. Henry has plans to pass on his farm to his oldest, but that kid hasn’t come home from college. There’s no point in pitching the legacy to his youngest son, Dean (Zac Efron). Dean is ashamed of what his dad has become, and is hellbent on becoming a NASCAR star.

His high school-age girlfriend, Cadence (Maika Monroe, a real find), is from a troubled home and lives with the Whipples, where Henry tries to give her “life lessons.” But with Dad cheating the genetically modified seed company he works for and cheating with the co-op secretary (Heather Graham), only Mom (Kim Dickens, terrific) seems to grasp what they all miss: “Why can’t you be happy with what’s right in front of you?”

The film grapples with a household full of broken dreams. Henry, given a marvelous brave-front-on-a-drowning-man take by Quaid, is losing his hold on his bio-seed client base to another aggressive salesman farmer (Clancy Brown).

Bahrani piles melodramatic flourishes on top of this solid base of characters and almost overwhelms the film at times. But then Quaid’s Henry will flinch in the presence of his taskmaster father, or Brown will show us a side never seen in his lifetime of character roles.

Beneath all the melodrama, beyond the fine performances, what sets At Any Price apart is the depiction of farming as it is today, the salesmanship, the traditions and ideals abandoned for greater profits and easier work and the ruthless world these patented “high yield” seeds have made.

Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; Cinemark West Plano

— Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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