Henry and Dean Whipple (Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron) are a father-son duo that are trying to get along, while they are also trying to buy as much farm-land as possible. Henry is all about his job, making money, being with his wife (Kim Dickens), and also being able to lay-around with his gal on the side (Heather Graham). As for Dean: he’s all about racing, causing havoc, being with his gal-pal (Maika Monroe), and having the dream that he will one day become the next big, NASCAR racer. The two don’t get along and can’t really see eye-to-eye on what their lives have turned out to be, but once Henry runs into the possibility of losing the one thing he loves the most (his farm-land), the two come together in surprising ways. Sort of.
The movie’s title, At Any Price, may seem like the dullest in the world. It’s almost as if the creators had a finished-product, but didn’t know how to sell it to the big crowds, so they just decided something that seemed inspirational would work and get people interested. Not for me, which is why I was not expecting anything at all worth while from this flick and for the first hour or so: that’s exactly what I got. Then, something happens in the middle of it all, that not only changes your view on the movie as a whole, but also has the title make more sense than ever. Can’t say what it is, but it will hit you like a ton of bricks, as it did to me. Trust me.
Maybe I’m out-of-the-loop or something, but I’ve never seen director Ramin Bahrani at work. I hear great things about his movies, but just have never given any of them a chance for the sole reason that none of them have ever seemed to really interest me. However, that’s just me and as I can see from his past movies ratings on Rotten Tomatoes: the dude’s got a lovely-following. But as the movie began and the ground-work for the story was being laid; I had no idea why.
It’s not that the dude’s a dull director, actually: it’s the opposite. Bahrani finds a way to paint a portrait of this small town in Iowa that feels and looks as if it should be the little slice of Americanism that you can only get with these types of places, and that’s exactly what it seems like after awhile. He finds beauty in the most simple things, such as a father tending to the rows and rows of corn, or a mother fetching potatoes out from underneath the soil. It’s all there and it all makes you feel at home, but there’s more stuff going on here than meets the eye, and that’s the whole problem right there.
Bahrani takes the over-stuffing of useless characters and subplots, as a way of portraying conflicts among the central characters. Instead of having the character of Henry Whipple just be a guy that’s struggling maintaining a loving-relationship with his son; he’s got to be banging some chick on the side, or his one son (the favorite) didn’t come home when he was supposed to and is out, climbing up the mountains in Argentina, causing even more anger and pain for the man on the inside. But Henry isn’t the only one: Dean goes through the same motions too. Not only does Dean seem to be having daddy-issues; but he also is having problems with his racing-career, being a loyal boyfriend, and is leading a life of crime and hate.
Sounds like too much already for a hour and 45 minute movie? Well, that’s because it is.
If Bahrani left these two central-characters alone, have them face one dilemma each, and leave that be it; then everything would have been fine, dandy, and easier to take in. However, that’s not what Bahrani does and instead, adds more and more context to this story that doesn’t feel needed. Yes, some of it does round-out these characters to make them feel and seem more humane in the way they go about their days together and separated, but it also feels like unneeded melodrama that we could easily deal with if we came home from school and turned on the Lifetime channel. Also, not to mention the fact that the movie goes down some crazy-routes that not only will make you scoff, but just might have you wonder what the hell it is that you’re watching.
But it should be noted, once again, that the one crazy-route that they decide to go down is something I was not expecting in the least-bit, did not know what to make of it at first, and after awhile of thinking and contemplating what it meant to the whole story in a nutshell, I came to the conclusion that it made sense and made the movie a whole lot better as a whole. I’m so damn tempted to go down that dick-headed road and say what it is, but I just can’t. What this final-twist in the story brings to the front, is not just character’s relationships and what each one means to the other, but how they are in everything and anything together.
After all of the strange shit that Bahrani throws at us, he ends on a pretty heartwarming note that touches any person who’s ever been there for a family-member. Whether you noticed that your mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother, dog, cat, etc. is going through obvious problems or not; you’ve always been there for them when they needed a helping-hand the most. That’s the idea that this movie touches on and despite taking some odd side-streets to get to it’s destination; it still works. Not in the longest-time has there been a flick that I’ve seen, but relatively bored and unsurprised by it, and kick me in the ass, slap me in the face, and open my eyes out of nowhere and change my final-thoughts on the whole-product; what it meant and what message the director was trying to get across. Seriously, once the final-twist comes up: you are going to either run with it and continue to think about it, or throw it in the garbage, and forget about the rubbish you just witnessed. It’s your call. Mine was the former.
Probably the best and most memorable aspect of this whole movie, without a doubt is the fact that after all of these years of showing up in random, bloated CGI-fests like this one, or that one: Dennis Quaid finally gets a role that’s worth his time and effort. Quaid has been one of these actors (refuse to call him a “character actor”), that shows up for work, does what he has to do, and goes on with his day. Nothing more, nothing less. He barely leaves an impression on the viewer, but lets us know that he’s there, if it’s only soeley to collect a paycheck.
All of that better change now, especially after a performance like this as Henry Whipple.
What’s so great about Quaid here is that the dude never seems like he’s phoning it in. Henry Whipple, on-paper, doesn’t seem like a very-complicated character as he’s just a dude trying his hardest to make his son, his wife, and his wallet happy, and leaving it like that. However, Quaid finds a way to make this guy as complicated as ever, which was a total sight to see because with every new scene you get with Quaid on-screen, is another new scene where you find out more about Henry, and his character. You always feel for this guy whenever he’s doing something; whether it be trying to win the heart of his son back again by showing up to his racing matches, or trying to buy-off somebody’s land during a funeral. No matter what the situation may be that the dude finds himself in, you always feel for the dude and has you on-board with his character throughout the whole movie, even when he is fucking up. And trust me: he does. Quaid is amazing and I hope this gets him more and more quality roles in the future, as the dude deserves it. Screw, Meg Ryan! Team Quaid!
That’s not to say the others in this cast aren’t worth talking about, because they all do fine with their lettuce and carrots. It’s just that Quaid is the one with the real meat. Zac Efron is fine as Dean, the troubled-son who doesn’t want to take over the daddy’s business and wants to be a rebel by racing. Efron is fine in the role as he shows off his guns, his good-looks, and his attitude, but the character is thinly-written and feels like he’s trying to go for the same feel of a young-Brando or Dean. Doesn’t quite hit the same marks, but is good with what he’s called on to do.
Playing his mommy is Kim Dickens who knows what’s going down with these two when they are busy at work, and are out in their free-time, but she keeps it all to herself and is good at it. She’s very subtle, but still dramatic to make enough of a difference in the grander-scheme of things. Heather Graham is wasted here as the whore of the town, Meredith, as it seems like she can’t be a normal person without a dick in her or some form of her clothing taken-off. Lastly, to round of the troupe of women we have on display here is Maika Monroe as Dean’s girlfriend who not only likes him for what he is, but also likes his father because of the determined business man he shows to her, as well as everybody else around him. Monroe is a welcome newcomer because she feels like a young gal that’s confused and unknowing about what she wants to do with her life, but still full of love and life. Hopefully, just like with Quaid, this means we get to see more of her in the near-future.
Consensus: At Any Price is a strange movie, but not for the sake of it’s tone or direction. It’s one of those movies that starts off so dull, continues on with same feeling/pace, but ends up taking you by storm with a final-act surprise, giving us a wider-glimpse of these characters, who they are, and what they mean to one another.
7 / 10 = Rental!!