At Any Price

At Any Price


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognise as food" - in her time - is one of author and food activist Michael Pollan's smart rules for healthy eating.

Ramin Bahrani's tightly wound At Any Price looks at modern farming through an Iowa family whose business is genetically modified corn. Dennis Quaid plays Henry Whipple with so much tension in his face that you might expect a little alien to pop out of his temple at any given moment. The enterprise is more cut-throat than romantic, and for idyllic corn fields you might want to escape to Terrence Malick's Oklahoma, where you'll find some non-escapist solace in and thoughtfulness about nature.

At Any Price, as the title already whispers, bargains with the business side of family and the predictable corruption of trade. The salesman of the present tense corn is not allowed to wash the GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms), and the Whipples are under investigation.

Henry's youngest son Dean is played by Zac Ephron, almost as sweaty as he is in The Paperboy, but with some more clothes on. The favourite oldest son went off to Argentina to climb the highest mountains and get away from his oppressive family. Dean wants to be a race car driver, not a farmer and salesman. When he asks his pals for some cash out of their shared piggy bank to enter an important racing contest, he gets "no" as an answer, because "that's beer and abortion money".

Bahrani consulted with George Naylor, who was one of the farmers profiled in Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. The neighbouring farmers hate each other. Heather Graham plays Meredith Crown, who is what looks like the town mistress, as though this were a job description, smiling and functioning. Graham, as she often does, transcends her role as object of desire, and undermines stereotyping with a refractory gesture or a magnetic glance in the wrong direction. Here, she has a first-rate fall from grace in a corn silo that turns her and the story on its head.

Maika Monroe gives her portrayal of Cadence Farrow, Dean's pretty and presumably orphaned girlfriend, more shades than seem to have been expected from her. Mother Irene Whipple (Kim Dickens, dressed to perfection in the depressing mom-wear of the hinterlands), knows too much, and keeps planting, cooking, dreaming, as the treasurer of the family secrets, because "we're a team."

Shared guilt brings the clan together. The bigger the crime, the stronger the bond. Bahrani's examination ends appropriately, if unexpectedly, which is a good statement. Like Gilles Legrand's full-bodied family triangle vineyard film of land and inheritance, You Will Be My Son, At Any Price focuses on the domestic thriller to tell about the changes in the production of our daily meals.

When "Customer Appreciation Day" comes around with balloons and barbecue, who thinks about justice? "Expand or die" is the model to success, even if the mold is broken.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2013
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A story of fathers and sons set against the backdrop of an Iowa farming community.
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Director: Ramin Bahrani

Writer: Ramin Bahrani, Hallie Elizabeth Newton

Starring: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, KimDickens, Chelcie Ross

Year: 2012

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2013

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