Rural farm life in the United States is something I know very little about being a city girl. As a subject for a film it is something that has not been addressed very often. The day to day struggle and back breaking work that has now been made even more difficult due to the incursion of large corporations making the small independent farmer’s place in the world even more precarious. It is all rather ruthless from what I can gather.
Director Ramin Bahrani has made films in the past that involved people trying to forge their paths in this at times cruel world. While Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo were smaller more indie films this is a larger budget film with a couple of bigger Hollywood names. Still it feels like even though he has more money and some recognizable names in it he should have stuck to making smaller films as he seems a bit out of his element here.
Modern agriculture is very different from the Mom and Pop farms that we normally see on screen. It is all rather cutthroat with corporations selling genetically modified seeds. Times they are a changing.
The Whipples have been in farming for generations. Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid – Far From Heaven, Any Given Sunday) is now running the very large Whipple farm. In Iowa, as in many other parts of the U.S., the moto is expand or die, so Henry is always looking to buy some land or sell seeds to a new client. Henry controls seven districts in regards to seed selling with his biggest competitor being Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown – The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers).
As with many farmers Henry wants to pass on the running of the Whipple & Sons to his son. Eldest son Grant, the high school football star, doesn’t seem to be interested as he is off in Argentina climbing mountains. The problem for Henry is that his only other son, Dean (Zac Efron – Hairspray, The Lucky One), shows no interest either as he envisions himself racing cars for a living. This conflict plus the fact that his farm is being investigated by authorities for seed washing and reselling has put an awful lot of weight on Henry’s shoulders.
Somehow the good beginning of the film which showed some potential turned into a typical father-son conflict then brought together through a tragedy. From interesting to melodrama.
At many instances while I was watching At Any Price I felt like I was watching a Lifetime Movie of the Week. It had that kind of cheesy feel to it. Even Dennis Quaid, who turns in a solid performance, gets lost in the whole mess of it at times. I even had some double takes when he would speak a little like he was a cross between Yoda and Gollum (“Worry not for approval I shall get”). Who talks like that? The not hard on the eyes at all Zac Efron instills the right amount of teenage angst and rage into his character.
Most frustrating for me is that I really saw the potential for a good story here if Bahrani had focused more on the intrusion of corporations into farming and the new realities and pressures that brought on to families who have been farming for generations that would have made for a much more interesting film than one that wavers in regards to identity as much as this one does.
-Toronto International Film Festival Q+A
-At Any Price Soundtrack
-Preview of Amour, The Company You Keep, Love Is All You Need, Before Midnight, I’m so Excited!