'At Any Price' Movie Review: Efron Carries Struggling Script
At Any Price, a drama directed by Ramin Bahrani, is the newest film in Zac Efron’s post-Disney repertoire. The movie, which also stars Dennis Quaid, follows the trials of father-son pair, Henry (Quaid) and Dean (Efron) Whipple, as they find themselves caught in a web of bad decisions that puts their family on the line.
It is a story about ambition gone wrong and the struggle to reconcile familial traditions with the modern world. For the Whipple patriarchs, their legacy is dependent on the continued expansion and success of their corn farm. Henry, feeling pressure from his aging father, ends up involved in an illegal scheme concerning his role as a seed salesman. As for Dean, he wants nothing to do with the farm, and is focused on his dream of being a racecar driver.
The film is a smart step for Efron, who’s previous efforts as a leading man in The Lucky One, and The Paperboy, were met with some resistance. Efron shot to stardom because of his ability to be dramatic and completely charming at the same time. If a role is too emotional or one-note, he quickly becomes boring. Let’s face it: young girls want to watch him sweep them off their feet, not sulk by himself. Unless he has an excellent and well-written role, straight drama is too big a risk for the young actor.
Dean is a good role for the High School Musical hottie because it allows Efron to play on his natural charms and expand his range as an actor. Dean is attractive, dangerous and charming, but also tortured and raw. Efron also got to learn from those that have come before him: some of his best work in the film occurs in his scenes with Quaid. In fact, their scenes were the most gripping in the film.
Quaid gives an excellent performance as Henry. He embodies the role of a salesman: every phrase, every move appears expertly crafted, a façade. Even with his family, Henry remains a salesman. Not only has Quaid perfected the salesman fake smile, but he also deserves a pat on the back for his natural delivery of sappy, expository dialogue.
The supporting cast also gave solid performances. Kim Dickens, who plays the peace-making wife, Irene Whipple, is very subtle and effective, and, newcomer Maika Monroe, who plays Dean’s young girlfriend, Cadence Farrow, is also a lovely discovery. And Heather Graham has a small role as Henry’s jilted lover.
Unfortunately, At Any Price spirals quickly once it takes a turn for the melodramatic — with twists and turns that feel extremely out of place. Henry and Dean both have intense monologues in which they explode with anger, and, while some of these outbursts are earned, many are not. These unexpected bursts of anger come out of nowhere. They are ridiculous and make the characters unbelievable, bringing the viewer out of the film. It is too bad, as many times this occurs just after an especially engaging sequence in the film. This juxtaposition is representative of the movie as a whole; it has some very good scenes followed by some very bad ones.
Still, At Any Price is interesting, if for no other reason than the fact that it takes place on a corn farm in Iowa — not a location you see in movies everyday. The landscapes are vast, and the director, Bahrani, fills the movie with wide shots, giving the viewer a real sense of the space and the possibility that fills it.
The drama created by ideas of familial duty is not particularly innovative, but it is effective. The problem with At Any Price is that it hits the nail on the head one too many times. Other than the infinite number of father-son pairs, there are multiple instances in which Dean and Henry express their deepest emotions and grudges against each other for no other reason than to remind the viewer that there is a father-son conflict. Not only does this discredit the conflict between them, but it also makes us intensely aware of the message of the film, rather than letting us understand it for ourselves.
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