Tribeca Film Festival 2013
By Don Simpson | April 21, 2013
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writers: Ramin Bahrani, Hallie Newton
Starring: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Kim Dickens, Maika Monroe, Chelcie Ross, Red West, Sophie Curtis
The Whipple family has been in the seed-selling business for a long time. The family business is currently run by Henry (Dennis Quaid), who performs his salesman duties with the confidence and bombast of someone with a modest share of Iowa’s corn-growing counties in his pocket. As the aged home video footage of Henry’s iconic Midwestern family played during the opening credits suggests, Henry is living the American dream. Henry owns thousands of acres of land; he is married to an ever-faithful, hard-working wife (Kim Dickens); he gets his rocks off with a beautiful mistress (Heather Graham); and has two seemingly suitable male heirs.
The problem is that his two sons have expressed zero interest in selling seeds. After graduating from high school, Henry’s favorite son left to travel the world and has yet to return. This leaves Henry’s younger son, Dean (Zac Efron), who is going full-throttle towards a career as a professional race-car driver. As it turns out, Dean has been holding onto an insurmountable history of fatherly neglect. Henry has only recently begun to show any interest in Dean’s life, but it is too little too late for Dean.
Rumor begins to spread that Henry might be cleaning and reselling genetically modified super-seeds from last season. Back in the olden days, this practice was perfectly acceptable, but not since all-powerful corporations infiltrated the market with their patented GMO seeds. With investigators banging at his door, the comfortable economic existence that Henry has long provided to his family is suddenly threatened. Henry has made countless enemies over the years in the competitive seed-selling industry, and soon Henry finds himself hemorrhaging clients to a rival salesman, Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown).
As if often the case, Henry’s American dream is just a facade waiting to be ripped apart. The wealth that the Whipple family has accumulated over the decades could all be gone in a matter of seconds, stolen away by a gargantuan corporation that Henry would have no chance at fighting. Capitalism worked quite well for the Whipple family back when it was shaped to help foster entrepreneurs and small businesses; but greedy corporations have hijacked the Capitalist system, quickly manipulating it into the worst enemy for the very same people it used to help. Now, Capitalism is designed to eat people like Henry for lunch. Welcome to our economically ravaged world of diminished opportunities and returns. Thank you very much, New World Order. If we bend over, can we have another?
With Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham’s names on the marquee, At Any Price is destined to become Ramin Bahrani’s biggest box office draw; but as Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo benefited greatly by the inherent gritty neo-realism of its unknown actors, the easily recognizable personas of At Any Price only serve as a distraction. Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham — though they are all commendable thespians — are in no way believable as Midwesterners, and a story like At Any Price would have really benefited from realistic performances by actors who could truly represent a rural Americana existence. That said, I will be glad to see Bahrani’s message get out to a more mainstream audience. Bahrani might never make a film as pitch-perfect as Man Push Cart, but I suspect that I will always enjoy the strong economic and social commentaries of his films. Even with its star-studded cast, At Any Price never wavers from its message about the modern economic plight of our agricultural industry. I just wish the vessels used to communicate this message could have been more suitable for the content.