At Any Price [Blu-Ray] Ramin Bahrani

At Any Price [Blu-Ray] Ramin Bahrani
7
During the early moments of At Any Price, Ramin Bahrani's addition to the increasingly culturally ubiquitous subject of capitalist greed, farm owner and seed salesman Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) takes son Dean (Zac Efron) to a funeral, hoping to purchase the land of the deceased from his mourning son. Dean sees through this tactless, exploitive tactic, gazing at the aggrieved with empathy while expressing defeatist indifference to his father, who preaches the importance of expanding his business and acquiring more to avoid failure. It's a moment that makes the implications of the title clear, criticizing without a great deal of subtly or nuance the agency of those living under the clear blue Iowa skies looming over the endless rows of corn sustaining their economy. That everyone wants more is something evidenced and reiterated by the prompt reveal of Henry cheating on his wife (Kim Dickens) with a local farm-co-op employee (Heather Graham). He perpetually takes risks to obtain every whimsy his id impulses desire, just as son Dean, wanting more than what inheriting his father's empire can offer, dreams of being a NASCAR driver, succeeding through reckless, uninhibited driving and similarly cheating on his girlfriend (Maika Monroe) with the same farm co-op employee. Their inability to find satisfaction, always wanting more, gives At Any Price a looming despondency and fatalistic sensibility. With both father and son — and even Henry's older, absent (and preferred) progeny, who's off climbing mountains in South America — their ambition is posited as a fatal flaw, something that will inevitably implode if pushed too far. These cracks start to appear when agribusiness investigators descend upon Henry's farm, exploring the possibility of him using and reselling second generation, genetically modified seeds despite contractual obligations. He also starts fraying at the edges when a local competitor (Clancy Brown) encroaches upon some of his established territory, picking away at clients he might have neglected. Bahrani's stylistic sensibilities, framing scenes with skylines and geographical specificities to capture and appreciate the space — this piece of America — do create palpable sadness and a consistent tone that generates greater intensity during protracted shots of characters gazing into the abyss. He allows moments to generate their sense of substantial meaning, rather than pushing everything forward towards a foregone conclusion that seems inescapable. This is why his decision to introduce a third-act contrivance, one that shifts the focus from healthy social performance as a mode of self-destruction to a standard-issue morality play, derails some of the established credibility and continuity. It also eschews (or convolutes) the initial concept and guiding trajectory of greed as an impetus for destruction, in favour of a muddled commentary on the state of the modern American family, forcing Dean and Henry into a mutually beneficial situation of necessary trust and reliance at the expense of the safety of their fellow community members. In a way, it accentuates the dangers of living within a lexicon that encourages an "every man for himself" philosophy, but it does so at the expense of character credibility. In the commentary track and panel discussion included with the Blu-Ray, the concepts are discussed with similar fluidity, suggesting that this structural flaw was implicit from inception. Something else that never comes up as a topic is the passive role women play throughout this above-average drama, being either doting girlfriends or facile floozies, while the men run around habitually marking their territory. (Sony)