Movie Review - At Any Price

Dennis Quaid stars as Henry Whipple, the owner of an important farm in Iowa as well as an ambitious, seed salesman for a conglomerate known as Liberty Seed. Zac Efron co-stars as Dean Whipple, Henry's youngest son who works at the farm but who aspires to be a race-car driver.

With the inclusion of Henry's patriarch, it's clear that co-writer and director Ramin Bahrani is weaving a tale all about the exploration of the oft-explored, father-son relationship. The stuff between Henry and Dean is the most melodramatic, familiar and predictable. Yet, the most interesting is the stuff between Henry and Henry's patriarch named Cliff, played by Red West. Sadly, Quaid and West have only one scene where it's brought up.

In that one scene, Henry and Cliff have a bit of an argument. The argument is over farming and what is the best way to go about farming in the modern era. What's interesting and unique about it is Cliff is the one pushing for modern technology while Henry is the one pushing to go back to traditional ways, despite being the younger man. In an argument like that, you'd expect the opposite. You'd expect Henry to be looking forward not backward. You'd expect Henry to have more of an eye to the future and not his senior citizen father.

Unfortunately, this is only one scene, but through Henry's story and his dilemma, Bahrani lays out why Henry doesn't want to look at the future in terms of modern farming technology. As a result, Bahrani is able to draw intrigue in the farming industry, intrigue not achieved since Steven Soderbergh's The Informant. That intrigues leads to a great comparison that Bahrani makes for Henry's dilemma to that of movie piracy or copyright infringement.

Henry sells seeds for a huge company called Liberty Seed. He is a consummate salesman who always has his game-face on. He's a real go-getter, upbeat, competitive, but he loses customers to another salesman named Jim Johnson, played by Clancy Brown. There's also 200 acres of land he wants to buy. Because of that and his competition, Henry decides to break the rules in order to get ahead. Dean's girlfriend, Cadence, played by Maika Monroe, is given an internship with Henry and she learns how he breaks the rules.

This exposes the dependence a lot of farms have on genetically modified organisms (GMO). This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It's Henry's greed and ambition that causes his troubles. This perhaps pushes or has an effect on Dean, which results in him landing in the trouble that he has, although Dean's issues might just be his own.

I'm not sure if the third act and ending help to reconcile Dean's issues. Dean commits an action that questions almost every action he committed in the first and second act. A tragedy occurs and where the movie goes from there leaves the film in a morally gray area or a more, morally dark area into which both Henry and Dean settle with almost ease. Instead of ease, Bahrani should have wielded punishment or more punishment given the overall tone.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content including a strong graphic image, and for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.


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