Wednesday, February 12, 2014

At Any Price

Directed by Ramin Bahrani and written by Bahrani and Hallie Elizabeth Newton, At Any Price is the story of a father and son at odds when the latter wants to pursue a career as a race car driver while the former deals with an investigation over his farming business as it goes into chaos. The film is an exploration into the world of father and son and the sacrifices they make. Starring Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Heather Graham, Kim Dickens, Clancy Brown, Chelcie Ross, Ben Marten, Red West, and Maika Monroe. At Any Price is an engrossing drama from Ramin Bahrani.

The life of a farmer often endures changing times in order through modern life as the film is about a farmer hoping to keep up with the times and ensure that it will be in the right hands once its inherited to his two sons. Unfortunately, his eldest son hasn’t returned from a personal journey to Argentina while the youngest wants to become a race car driver. The tension between Henry (Dennis Quaid) and Dean Whipple (Zac Efron) is at the heart of the film as Henry tries to be in Dean’s life but Dean wants to be on his own. It’s a film that is an exploration into pride as Henry does things to keep up with the times and ensure the future of his farming business. Yet, his activities would get him in trouble forcing Dean to step in and find out who had been going after his family where both father and son would pay big prices for their sins.

The film’s screenplay doesn’t just explore this growing schism between Henry and Dean but also Henry’s own foolish ambitions as he is convinced by the people he’s working with to expand or die. The film’s opening scene after a montage of home video footage of the Whipple family has Henry talking to Dean about closing a deal as they’re attending a funeral where Henry is hoping to buy some acres of land from that family. It’s that scene where it showcases what kind of man that Henry is but also set the seeds for all of the trouble that he would create for himself and his family. While Henry sells himself as a farmer who likes to charm people and make sure he can help them. He’s a man that cheats on his wife Irene (Kim Dickens) with a mistress named Meredith (Heather Graham) who would also have a tryst with Dean as well as someone who will also cheat his way to get what he wants.

Dean in some respects is like his father as he also has ambitions but in the world of racing as he wants to make it as a race car driver but he is also a troublemaker as he drinks and steals while likes to have his girlfriend Cadence (Maika Monroe) around. Though Dean does help out in the farm and knows how to do things that makes him the more likely candidate to take over the family business that’s been passed from generation to generation. He’s not interested in taking over as he despises his dad for being very pushy as he believes that’s why his older brother Grant (Patrick W. Stevens) has left home. It’s one of the aspects that adds to the drama that makes it very engaging though things do get a bit messy in the third act when both Henry and Dean try to figure out who had put them through this mess where it would add not just trouble but also guilt in both of their parts.

Ramin Bahrani’s direction is very simple in the way he approaches the film though it is different than his previous films which were more about outsiders on the fringes of American society. Still, he manages to convey some idea of realism into his story as it does explore the world of the American farmer who are also outsiders in some respects as they don’t live in big cities. Especially as they’re dealing with a world that is changing as Henry has to keep up with the times as the order is to expand or die. Henry takes up the former in order to compete with other farmers such as Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown) but at the expense of threatening his own family business as his father Cliff (Red West) is aware of the problems his son has caused.

Bahrani’s direction is always gazing into the world of the landscape as much of it is shot on location in Dekalb, Illinois in the U.S. as Iowa as it’s a land that is very rich with its corn and wheat fields. Even in the scenes set in the race tracks showcase a sense of vibrancy and intimacy in Bahrani’s direction though things aren’t well handled in the film’s third act where it does get a bit heavy. Largely as the film leans towards something that doesn’t fit in with the drama but Bahrani does still keep the film focused on the story of father and son as well as the sins they have to deal with. Despite the flaws in its third act, Bahrani manages to create a compelling film about the world of farming and the relationship between father and son.

Cinematographer Michael Simmonds does fantastic work with the film‘s gorgeous photography with the look of the landscape in the film as well as the use of lights for much of the film‘s interior and exterior scenes at night. Editor Affonso Goncalves does excellent work with the film‘s editing by using some rhythmic jump-cuts for some of the racing scenes along with a montage in the film‘s opening credits and some straightforward cuts for the rest of the film. Production designer Chad Keith, with set decorator Adam Willis and art director Jonathan Guggenheim, does brilliant work with the set pieces from the farms that Henry operates to some of the places he and his family go to.

Costume designers Tere Duncan and Sandy Lazar do terrific work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual and ragged to play into that look of small-town folk. Visual effects supervisor Andre Basso does nice work with some of the film‘s minimal effects which involves some of the racing scenes. Sound editor Abigail Savage does wonderful work with the film‘s sound to play into some of the natural sounds of the locations along with the layers of sounds in the racing scenes. The film’s music by Dickon Hinchcliffe is superb for its mixture of ambient and post-rock music that is the basis for the film score as the film’s music soundtrack from music supervisor Michael Hill largely consists of country and metal tracks where the latter plays into Dean’s world.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it includes some notable performances from Chelcie Ross as a seed farmer who needed Henry’s help only to tell Henry the severity of his troubles, Dan Waller as a young farmer Dean and Henry meets at the funeral in the opening moments of the film, Ben Marten as Jim Johnson’s son Brad who despises Dean, Stephen Louis Grush as Dean’s friend Torgeson, Patrick W. Stevens as Henry’s eldest son Grant who only appears briefly in the film’s opening montage credits, and Red West as Henry’s father Cliff who is unsure about his son’s plans as he realizes the trouble that Henry is causing. Clancy Brown is terrific as Henry’s rival Jim Johnson as a farmer who has taken one of Henry’s territories causing Henry to fire back.

Heather Graham is pretty good in an underwritten role as Henry’s mistress Meredith who helps Henry out with his moves while also having a tryst with Dean. Maika Monroe is amazing as Dean’s girlfriend Cadence who helps Henry out with regaining a territory of his while dealing with some of the issues that are causing trouble for both Dean and Henry. Kim Dickens is fantastic as Henry’s wife Irene as she is the bookkeeper of Henry’s work while being the most grounded person in her family as she also knows about Henry’s affairs. Zac Efron is superb as Dean Whipple as a young man eager to make it as a race car driver while having a hard time dealing with his father’s presence as well as the pressure of taking over the family business. Dennis Quaid is incredible as Henry Whipple as a man of great ambition who tries to keep up with the times only for his selfishness and greed would get him in trouble as he faces the sins that he’s created for himself and his son.

At Any Price is an excellent film from Ramin Bahrani that is highlighted by the performances of Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, and Kim Dickens. While it is a more polished and accessible film in comparison to Bahrani’s previous works. It is still a captivating piece that explores the world of farming and its clash with modernism as well as an intriguing tale about fathers and sons. In the end, At Any Price is a fantastic film from Ramin Bahrani.

Ramin Bahrani Films: Man Push Cart - Chop Shop - Goodbye Solo - Plastic Bag - 99 Homes - (Fahrenheit 451 (2018 film)) - The Auteurs #55: Ramin Bahrani

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