At Any Price

Directed By: Ramin Bahrani

Starring: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Ben Marten, Kim Dickens, Chelcie Ross, Red West, Maika Monroe, and Sophie Curtis

Running a business is a tough endeavor, especially in a saturated market.  I sure as hell know it.  The competition is stiff.  The customers are demanding. The regulations within the industry are nothing more than a setback.  All in all, running a business is like survival of the fittest.  You'll either expand or die.  Henry Whipple really takes this to heart in Ramin Bahrani's At Any Price.

Like his daddy (Red West), his daddy's daddy, and his great granddaddy, Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) has run his family's farm and is doing what he must to keep its legacy alive.  That means that he intends to pass on the business to his eldest son Grant (Patrick Stevens).  Unfortunately, Grant wants nothing to do with him and is off in Argentina mountain-climbing.  For now, it looks like Henry is stuck with his younger son Dean (Zac Efron).  However, Dean is mentally gone.  He is as far away mentally from the farm as Grant is physically.  Dreaming of racing in NASCAR, Dean has no interest whatsoever in taking the reins of the family business.  This certainly causes some friction with Henry, who turns to Dean's girlfriend Cadence (Maika Monroe) for help with making some sales when neither of his sons will help him.

Getting his sons even remotely interested in the business is not Henry's biggest problem.  The corn market is getting increasingly more competitive as prices skyrocket in the commodities market.  Rival Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown) is looking to grow his market share.   Decatur County, where Henry has a strong presence, is looking like a nice slice of the market right about now, and Johnson takes a big bite out of Henry's sales.  To make matters worse, Henry is being investigated by Liberty Seeds, the company from which he buys his corn seeds, for having resold their patented seeds to his own customers, an offense that could cost him the farm.  Meanwhile, Henry finds himself in the midst of a marital crisis with his wife Irene Whipple (Kim Dickens) because of his extramarital affair with Meredith Crown (Heather Graham), the town whore.

In At Any Price, newcomer Ramin Bahrani deftly explores the lengths to which people will go in order to survive.  In the case of the Whipple clan, it's abundantly clear that they will do anything to keep their family's business alive.  Whether lying, cheating, stealing, or killing, each and every Whipple will do whatever it takes no matter what the cost.  Bahrani emphasizes this theme throughout the film.  Beyond this, however, At Any Price plays like a typical low-key indie. All the plot twists are expected as it's a fairly predictable movie.  Additionally, Bahrani misses a few opportunities to expand upon some more interesting storylines. 

We get a mixed bag of performances from the cast.  As Henry Whipple, Dennis Quaid gives one hell of a performance.  From a callous, crafty salesman to an emotional wreck, Quaid delivers a relatable but detestable main character.  When Quaid is on, he's on.  There's no denying that in this flick.  Other standouts in the film are Clancy Brown as Jim Johnson and Maika Monroe as Dean's girlfriend Cadence.  On the other hand, Quaid's co-star Zac Efron dabbles in mediocrity throughout the movie.  With bland expressions that show no real emotion or depth, Efron once again demonstrates that he's a one-trick pony.  Don't look to Efron if you're looking for a performance with some significance.  For their parts as Irene Whipple and Meredith Crown respectively, Kim Dickens and Heather Graham are pretty worthless too.

At Any Price is a piercing indie drama that tackles the cost of survival in a very deft way.  If this film proves anything, it proves that Ramin Bahrani has a promising future as a director.  That being said, At Any Price is not without its flaws, namely uninspired performances and underwhelming storylines.  All in All, At Any Price gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of Moscato with this one.