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
National

California passes 'yes-means-yes' campus sexual assault bill

Californian lawmakers passed a law on Thursday requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, part of a nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on…

National

Syrian refugees top 3 million, half of all…

By Stephanie NebehayGENEVA (Reuters) - Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday, but many remain trapped by the advance…

International

North Korean leader's money manager defects in Russia:…

A senior North Korean banking official who managed money for leader Kim Jong Un has defected in Russia and was seeking asylum in a third country, a South Korean newspaper…

Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 29,…

The Department of Transportation and NYPD said there may be residual delays near all of the street closures on August 29, 31 and 31. Several streets and avenues will be…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

Movies

Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Entertainment

Comedian Joan Rivers, 81, rushed to New York…

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acerbic comedian and fashion critic Joan Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Thursday after she reportedly…

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…