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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

Not Your Average Day On The Farm: “At Any Price”

The story of a father and son butting heads and experiencing disconnect may be the basis for the Bahrani film At Any Price, but it’s the chemistry of Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron combined with the honest view of the high-stakes world of agribusiness that makes this drama one to watch.

Premiering first at several film festivals in September 2012, I was fortunate to be able to attend the gala screening for At Any Price at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a film that’s sat with me for eight months now, and I’m pleased to be able to write about it now that it’s beginning to make its way into theatres.

Credit twitchfilm.com

At Any Price is a father-son drama set in the heartlands of Iowa. Dennis Quaid plays Henry Whipple, a family farmer hoping to pass his 3,500 acres of farmland on to his son Dean (Zac Efron), who wants nothing to do with the business – he wants to race cars. Their family dynamic is challenged when an investigation is launched upon Whipple Seeds surrounding their reuse of genetically modified seeds, and as the film progresses, we get to see the ways in which their characters strive for victory at any price.

Ramin Bahrani is a refreshing young American director, best known for his films Man Push Cart and Chop Shop. His films explore the idea of opening up and examining preconceived notions when it comes to environment and character archetype, and At Any Price does exactly that. So often the American farmer is depicted in the media as a hard-working, weathered symbol of traditionalism and the American dream, but that’s a romantic notion that’s quickly upended in this film. Instead we see families struggling to survive and compete in a high-stakes, high-business world where advances in technology can hurt just as much as they can help. There’s a curiosity to Bahrani’s directing style, one that doesn’t shy away from depicting a way of life that most people know very little about. He doesn’t glamorize the industry or his characters, and as such, I found the story engaging and moving, with a few interestingly dark turns along the way.

Dennis Quaid is stronger than I’ve ever seen him, his trademark smile out in full force right away as he plays Henry Whipple. But as the story progresses and the stakes get higher, it’s easier to see the desperation prompting that smile, the forced way in which he wears it. Henry Whipple is not a hero; he’s a flawed and selfish man desperate for success, blind to hundreds of things around him. Roger Ebert called this “one of the performances of a lifetime”, and he wasn’t wrong – Dennis Quaid carries the film, consciously tapping into classic overacting techniques to show a character that’s trying too hard, and it’s a performance that impressed and stayed with me long after the film was over.

Credit movpin.com

Zac Efron, best known to the public as the teen heartthrob of High School Musical fame, was given an opportunity to flex his dramatic chops – and rose to the task. I’m generally of the belief that Efron’s strengths lie in comedy rather than drama, but I was impressed with the performance he pulled out for this film. At the Q&A session for At Any Price at the Toronto International Film Festival, Efron talked about shooting a scene in which his character, in an angry and confused rage, drives off-road through a field with cornstalks seven feet high. Nervous about doing the stunt himself, he was surprised when Bahrani hopped into the car next to him, crouching down on the floor for support as he took off through the field. That scene turned out to be one of Efron’s best in the film, and I believe it’s a testament to the bond that’s formed when an actor and director trust each other to take a performance to new levels.

Other cast members include Heather Graham, Clancy Brown and Kim Dickens, all of whom give solid performances. A notable surprise was newcomer Maika Monroe, who holds her own against more experienced actors and fosters a fantastic dynamic with Quaid in their scenes together. Her work as Dean Whipple’s girlfriend Cadence is refreshing and gives us particular insight into the type of man Henry Whipple could be if his desperation to succeed in his career didn’t permeate his entire being.

Credit observer.com

Granted, there are several points in the film where the drama seems forced, where stakes feel ramped up to unrealistic heights solely to ensure a reaction from the audience. The surprising third act turning point, while doing fantastic things for Quaid’s character and pushing us into an ending requiring reflection, feels as if it’s there just as much for shock value as it is for narrative purpose. However, when the story works, it’s engaging and surprisingly dark, and Quaid and Efron’s charisma and chemistry is always spot-on.

At Any Price is not a hopeful story. There is no happy ending; this film doesn’t wrap everything up nicely and ties nothing off with a neat little bow, and I feel it’s all the stronger for it. At Any Price is a new take on the story of the American farmer, one with high stakes and cutthroat practices, and it’s one that left me thinking long after I left the theatre.

At Any Price is currently showing in many California cities, along with Chicago, Arlington, Bethesda, and New York. More release dates are scheduled across North America throughout the month of May. Check their website for showings near you.

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