In the competitive world of modern agriculture, ambitious Henry Whipple wants his rebellious son Dean to help expand his family's farming empire. However, Dean has his sights set on becoming a professional race car driver. When a high-stakes investigation into their business is exposed, father and son are pushed into an unexpected crisis that threatens the family's entire livelihood. Written by
Sony Pictures Classics
Less About a Payoff; More a Thoughtful Study About American Values
From my thoughts about the film in my special Toronto coverage.
At Any Price
Iranian-American helmer Ramin Bahrani is fascinated with slices of American life that most Hollywood films today ignore. In his first three efforts, shot on shoe-string budgets in a neo-realist style familiar to fans of Middle East films of the past decade or so, we get absorbed into the everyday minutiae of his characters. There was the Middle East immigrant in New York City who runs his gift shop stand in Man Push Cart (2006), that resourceful Latino street orphan who works on a scrap-metal row behind old Shea Stadium in Queens in Chop Shop (2007), and the African cabbie in Goodbye Solo (2008).
At Any Price finds Bahrani exchanging neo-realism for a classic American style familiar to a bygone Hollywood era that produced Breaking Away (1979) and Silkwood (1983), while keeping intact his curiosity with everyday American life. Set in present-day Iowa with a pulse on our tense economic times, we follow enterprising farmer Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid, in what may be his best performance), a tragic character who now secures the Willy Loman place in American movies that had been occupied for some time by Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham in American Beauty (1999).
Whipple, as he loves to remind us, is the largest seller of seeds in seven Iowa counties, second only to Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown). His eldest son Grant, who he idealizes, is off mountain-climbing in the Andes while his party-boy younger son Dean (Zac Efron) races cars, leaving dad and mom (a powerful, understated Kim Dickens) to run the family business.
A rich and textured story, this movie is less about building to a payoff than it is a soul-searching study of modern American values. What is astonishing is how Bahrani sees the glory of America and the trouble with her all at a level gaze. There may not be a better-directed sequence in American movies this year than one that takes place here at a race track where all of the major characters are assembled, singing the national anthem. Beneath its raw, physical appeal is a fundamental question about the price that is paid in the soul for winning at all costs at the detriment of your neighbor. This is a great American film.
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