Film Review: At Any Price
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Written by Hallie Elizabeth Newton and Ramin Bahrani
Director of photography, Michael Simmonds
Distribution by Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Principle Cast: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Chelcie Ross, Maika Monroe, Red West , Ben Marten and Dan Waller
Tweetable Review: At Any Price – Bahrani’s latest trips itself up as it tries too hard to fill some large shoes
Usually catching a Ramin Bahrani film is a highlight reel of Independence cinema. Audiences are treated to close atmosphere, a subtle surface glow and a realism for the daily interconnectivity of people – there is a certain feeling that Bahrani brings to the table. And its this sense of insular grandeur that makes At Any Price, the director’s latest outing, seem unreachable and largely a misstep.
At Any Price tries to play out a large stand on the environment while giving perspective on the American Farmer’s plight by focusing on the ambitious Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) who wants his rebellious son Dean (Zac Efron) 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 the family business is exposed, father and son are pushed into an unexpected crisis that threatens the family’s entire livelihood.
For this turn, Bahrani has crafted a piece that is more geared toward message than character. At Any Price gives audiences hollowed shells of generalities where we normally would get rounder facets; this comes with the expense that audiences get the director’s most conventional and mainstream film filled with stereotypes and skimmed narrative rather than something rich and deep to take away. The sizing-down is a departure from Bahrani’s previous work (Man Push Cart, Plastic Bag) but Price manages to still offer a plot that isn’t a complete walk in the park, but audiences shouldn’t expect a Chop Shop follow up.
Overall the film has the makings of a traditional art house fare but without the vigor to follow. Michael Simmonds’ cinematography sets mood wonderfully by displaying bright and optimistic tones of the American farming landscape juxtaposed to industrial technology and abrasive attitudes of contemporary culture. Acting is handled curiously-adequate (with empty characters like these, adequate is really the most we can hope for) by anchoring Price’s two principle male leads – the overplayed Dennis Quaid and underplayed Zac Efron, on either side of the supportive and ever-so doting & overlooked Kim Dickens as the family’s matriarchal character.
At Any Price doesn’t offer the traditional mark of organic presence one has come to expect from Ramin Bahrani. Instead audiences will receive a film that has a traditional made-for-tv build and something that seems too big to fill its own shoes. At this time of year when people are graduating and looking to take a Summer break we can’t help but consider our grades and mistakes we made along the way, and in turn, hope we learned some lessons. For the Indie-Arthouse cinephiles, we hope Ramin Bahrani has experienced his lessons in mainstream cinema and will return again next Fall as a head of his class, instead of just making a passing grade.
~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films
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