It actually hurts to write this review, as I’ve been a
booster of Ramin Bahrani’s work from the moment I saw his debut feature Man Push Cart. His subsequent films (Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo) made it clear that he was not a flash-in-the-pan,
but one of the most exciting voices in contemporary American cinema. But
nobody’s perfect, and I can only call his newest effort a misfire. As true as I
find his other films, this one rang false to me from the very first scene.
Bahrani usually works with nonprofessional actors. Here he
has the benefit of an experienced cast, led by Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, but
their characters are so hollow and unconvincing I don’t know who could have
breathed life into them.
At Any Price
purports to show the plight of the modern American farmer. Quaid is more than
that, however: he’s an entrepreneur and super-salesman whose overbearing
personality has driven one son away from home and threatens to turn his younger
boy (Efron) against him. Desperation drives every move he makes, which is
understandable given the state of the farm economy. Still, Quaid seems to plant
the seeds of his undoing at every turn.
The last thing one expects is that the film will morph into
a grim melodrama. Whatever credibility it retains at that point, after some
other unfortunate plotting, disintegrates.
Up to now, Ramin Bahrani’s work has been grounded and
organic. At Any Price can only be
called an anomaly. However, one misstep cannot negate a notable career; let’s
just hope that this gifted filmmaker returns to form with his next