At Any Price

May 17, 2013

At Any Price Grade: B Director: Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo) Screenplay: Bahrani, Hallie Elizabeth Newton Cast: Dennis Quaid (The Words), Zac Efron (Liberal Arts) Rating: R Runtime: 105 min by John DeSando At Any price isn’t exactly Eugene O’Neil, Edna Ferber, or Tennessee Williams set in the farmland of southern Iowa, but it successfully and entertainingly has tragic traits that make it much deeper than the mature corn serving as background. Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) farms and sells seed while trying to direct his two independent-minded sons to the family business rather than stock car racing and mountain climbing. The tragic complications come soon and multiple with Henry’s involvement in washing and selling genetically modified seeds ( a no-no because of the agreement with seed companies), his infidelity, and his one son, Dean (Zac Efron) racing and carousing rather than seriously farming. The plot strands need a defter hand than director Ramin Bahrani’s. While his previous Goodbye Solo concentrated on a few actions mainly by taxi driver Solo, his At Any Price for any one of the plot strands could use more growing room. However, Bahrani is expert at presenting characters as he meticulously gives even minor ones room to be a serious part of the complicated proceedings. Even though the climactic third act introduces a plot twist too contrived to give the actions classically tragic quality, the characters are consistently endangered or flawed. The farms move with the plot as their fecundity belies the crimes they hide, as if Hitchcock’s NNW crop duster sequence were stretched into an epic. Like Ferber’s Giant, the sprawling and intriguing At Any Price relies on a sense of place, big as Texas yet far denser with humanity and imperfection. Although farmers like Henry have tamed the land with bounty now controlled by computers and genetic engineering, mankind still has the predilection for fiddling where it should not. The sins so prevalent from the Bible onward crop up, so to speak, even in the heartland: “Agriculture is one of the most exhausting forms of toil, and, in itself, by no means conducive to spiritual development.” George Gissing John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at He also appears as an occasional commentator on Fox 28. Contact him at