Published May 09, 2013Using the world of farming and agriculture in Iowa as his backdrop, co-writer and director Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo) paints an observant picture of an America obsessed with the cutthroat business of competition, one where success is not only rewarded, but an absolute necessity for survival.
Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) is one of the top seed salesmen at a reputable company where he is constantly vying to claim dominance over more counties than his fellow farmers. He has a wife (Kim Dickens), a mistress (Heather Graham) and a couple of kids – one of whom has fled the country, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the family business.
The other, Dean (Zac Efron), has grand ambitions of racing in NASCAR and spends his time either on the track, with his girlfriend (Maika Monroe) or lamenting the assistance he must provide on the farm. After proving his worth behind the wheel, he finally gets a shot at the big time, complete with the requisite hefty dose of pressure that he must overcome if he wishes to achieve his dreams.
Quaid has been a ubiquitous presence in films for decades now, yet here's been handed one of his best roles, perfectly slipping into the skin of a manipulative charmer. Consider the film's opening scene, where he attends a funeral in a shameless (and successful) attempt to purchase acres of land left behind by the deceased. However, when an investigation is launched regarding his questionable farming practices, his entire livelihood is threatened.
Continuing his attempt to shake free of his High School Musical roots by tackling more adult roles, Efron doesn't fare quite as well. To be fair, he has been saddled with a lot of heavy lifting in a role as a monosyllabic rebel devoid of much sympathy. Still, he does little to imbue the character with any depth and his arc is abrupt and not entirely believable.
There are few filmmakers who would tackle a subject like this and fewer still who could mould it into the subtle and clear-eyed assessment of the underlying issues afflicting the country that it is.
While a third act plot contrivance may feel more like a screenwriting device than an organic extension of characters' motivations, the movie still remains another testament to Bahrani's considerable and unique talents. (Mongrel Media)