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Saturday, May 4, 2013

At Any Price Movie Review

American farming has morphed a great deal since the days when it was portrayed as a somewhat idyllic life where good old American hard work and morals dominated every facet of the industry. Then again, how something is portrayed often bears little resemblance to reality.

Ramin Bahrani's "At Any Price" seeks to frame a new version of American agriculture that displays the known underhandedness and corruption that pervades the industry that threatens to destroy the notion of farming as Americans often like to wistfully view it. The days of farming conjuring up thoughts of rippling fields of wheat, mom, and apple pie are long gone and they will never return, even though "At Any Price" makes us believe that it might still all work out.

Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) owns a pretty large farm in Iowa. It has been with the family for generations, something he often reminds folks of, while his father often reminds him of the same thing. Henry's oldest and revered son, Grant, is on the road seeking out adventure after adventure. His younger son, Dean (Zac Efron), is a little bit more of an afterthought to his father. Everything is about the return of his older brother. This could not have been made more plain than in a scene when Grant is expected home and his father literally rolls out a red carpet in the driveway. Grant never shows up.

Dean is the rebel child. He is into fast cars and dreams of someday becoming a star on the racing circuit. He already wins all of the local racing events. Even though we are presented Dean as the James Dean rebel type, he never fulfills that role. His anger never seems out of control. Whether that is because Bahrani doesn't want him that way or Efron can't pull it off is unclear.

The crux of "At Any Price" is the ever-looming Liberty seed company, a very thinly veiled reference to the Monsanto corporation. Monsanto has created the deal that American farmers can no longer re-plant their own crops every year. Instead they must constantly buy seeds from Monsanto. That this is going on in America and everyone is not aware of (and outraged by) it is another story.

"At Any Price" is a great example of cookie-cutter filmmaking still being effective. Bahrani lays everything out for the viewer. The roles and plot are very easy to follow. Everything is by the book except for one sub-plot that might catch you off guard. Most of the acting performances are solid, if not noteworthy. I'm not certain that it will get enough exposure to find an audience, but the public will be happy if they do wander in to see it. Even at today's standard hefty entrance fee to your local multiplex, it is definitely worth the price.

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