Movie review: 'At Any Price' finds seed of trouble
July 4, 2013 4:00 AM
Zac Efron stars in "At Any Price."
By Andrew Gretchko Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Expand or die, gentlemen. Get big or get out," says a potbellied salesman from AggroWarrior, attempting to sell its soil-enhancing nutrient-packed product to Iowan farmers like Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid).
R for sexual content including a strong graphic image, and for language.
"At Any Price" dramatizes the sociopolitical problems plaguing one of America's oldest professions, but it's not content to stop there. Instead, it throws in a Hollywood touch, just as Matt Damon's "Promised Land" did with the fracking debate, substituting drama for facts and failing to give either dynamic the attention it deserves.
As Whipple lectures his son, Dean (Zac Efron), on the family business, the look on his face tells a familiar American story: a son striving for more.
Dean is sick of the $2 trillion market that corn has become and wants out to race stock cars. Henry, who is relying on Dean to take over the farm one day, decides to take him along on a business trip in an effort to change his mind.
They show up at a funeral, earning glares and harsh words after making an offer to buy the deceased man's 200 acres. Dean chastises his father for putting business before civility, but before they drive away, a member of the deceased's family accepts the offer.
The harsh realities of farming are present throughout Ramin Bahrani's film, such as small-time farmers being forced out by larger landowners. As "At Any Price" continues, Mr. Bahrani shows how there are always bigger fish.
Today, roughly 88 percent of corn and 93 percent of soybeans grown domestically come from seed companies like Monsanto, which has come under fire for allegedly monopolizing the industry and selling genetically modified organisms seeds. As Henry explains to Dean's girlfriend, "These guys didn't copyright movies. They copyrighted life."
To make matters worse for Whipple, he's accused of illegally recycling and selling genetic seeds from each crop, a practice that could cost him his farm.
Add an affair, Dean's racing failure and a murder, and "At Any Price," which was shown at the Venice, Telluride, Toronto, SXSW and Tribeca film festivals, turns into a Hollywood production.
While there is nothing wrong with catering to the Hollywood audience, the acting, including Heather Graham's, isn't strong enough to carry a film full of beautiful shots of America's heartland.
Let this be a lesson to filmmakers: There is often a fine line between a film with an important message and a movie made solely for box office success.