Magazine article Screen International

At Any Price

Magazine article Screen International

At Any Price

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Ramin Bahrani. US. 2012. 105mins

The moral compass of a modern-day American farming family goes rampantly off-course in Ramin Bahrani's wonderfully performed though dramatically uneven film, which trades on generational conflict, contemporary farming techniques and moral mis-steps set against the stunning backdrop of the sweeping Southern Iowa cornfields.

Zac Efron's brooding good looks work well for the role of Dean, and the moments when he and Dennis Quaid are together the film really comes to life.

The impressive backbone to the film is Dennis Quaid's mesmerising performance as Henry Whipple, a genial but complex character obsessed with sustaining the family legacy of his extensive farm. His moral compass is shown to be dodgy in an opening scene, where he attends a funeral in an attempt to buy land off a grieving family, but after that its spins wildly out of control. The film screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival.

Director Ramin Bahrani (who made Man Push Cart and Goodbye Solo), working from an admirably thoughtful script co-written with Hallie Elizabeth Newton, aims to dwell on complex characters faced with tough decisions, and while there are some wonderful dramatic moments at times there are just too many minor characters struggling to make an impact. But Quaid makes the film always watchable, and is the perfect fit as an easy-going farmer struggling to keep a smile on his face.

Henry has lived by the credo of 'expand or die' and looked to by land to secure the family farm. But his oldest son is away travelling and doesn't look like coming home while younger son Dean (Zac Efron) wants to be a NASCR driver to escape his rural existence. Dean sees his father's dubious ethics first hand and doesn't want to drawn into his world, but at the same time is loyal to his mother Irene (Kim Dickens) and aware of his place within the small-town world.

Henry cheats on his wife with former cheerleader Meredith (Heather Graham), but is more about the ritual of his life than lack of love for his wife and is more interested in talking about his agricultural success them the sex.

Grumpy Dean (Efron rarely gets to smile here) gets his big chance to prove his driving talents, but an unnerving track incident sees him lose his nerve and is faced with reassessing his future. …

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