Film review: ‘At Any Price’

Zac Efron, Kim Dickens and Dennis Quaid star in Ramin Bahrani's "At Any Price." Credit: Matt Dinerstein/Sony Pictures Classics
Zac Efron, Kim Dickens and Dennis Quaid star in Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price.”
Credit: Matt Dinerstein/Sony Pictures Classics

‘At Any Price’
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

If there is anyone in American cinema today more consciously carrying the torch of classic European neo-realist cinema, it’s Ramin Bahrani. “Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop” and “Goodbye Solo” are all perceptive looks at the working class that don’t simply honor their struggle but respect them enough to reveal their flaws. Perhaps it’s inevitable that every director winds up with an A-list cast, even if one of those names is Zac Efron. And Bahrani — who has classically leaned towards non-pros, or at least underknowns — is apparently no exception. “At Any Price” is a bit of Frankenstein monster, if not in the ways you would think.

Dennis Quaid plays Henry Whipple, a small town Illinois seed farmer first seen lecturing his layabout son Dean (Efron) on the finer points of shamelessly manipulating people by using a big grin and a forced positive attitude. A third generation business owner, he keeps things going with genetically altered seeds and a shortage of ethics, and expects his two sons to carry on the family name. But one is off traipsing about Argentina, while Dean seems uninterested in anything, save striking back at dad.

Where Bahrani’s previous films were tightly focused, the bigger “Price” — which also makes room for Heather Graham as an evil Midwestern version of a temptress, who seduces both father and son — is more diffuse. It’s rarely clear if it’s being driven by character, narrative or a savage satire on today’s economy. When it takes a turn for a morality tale in the eleventh hour, the clean-up can’t help but feel rushed and semi-earned.

But there’s so much goodness here. Quaid, as a kind of grifter who’s been “on” so long he’s even fooled himself, hasn’t been this energized in ages. And Bahrani stretches his stuff. In keeping with the neo-realist aesthetic, his movies have been filmed with a handheld as a shortcut to realism. His work here is more slick (read: the camera is on a tripod). It often doesn’t feel like him, except that the concerns are roughly the same. (Henry could be the spiritual father to the scrappy kid laborer in “Chop Shop.”) The most shocking parts come during scenes showing Dean’s sudden jones for stock car driving. The racing sequences are bizarrely kinetic, with Bahrani shedding his Roberto Rossellini vibe for a not terrible approximation of John Frankenheimer. One benefit of a messy production, even a slightly messy one like this, is there are times when it seems anything could happen. For “At Any Price” that’s often a good thing.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.