Dennis Quaid cracks his craggy handsomeness wide open in this absorbing Iowa-set American drama about competitive farmers, all of whom scheme like world-class politicians. Quaid’s Henry Whipple, a longtime seller of genetically modified ‘superseeds’ to multiple buyers, coasts along on his corn-fed bluster. Yet it’s not long before the actor’s furrowed brow and quivering lip from ‘Far from Heaven’ start to make their appearances.
A rebellious stock-car-driving son (Zac Efron) is giving him grief, while Henry’s wife (Kim Dickens, keenly quiet) is on to his infidelities and the accounts are cooked. This isn’t the best time for customers to start defecting to another vigorous salesman, but that’s the essence of ‘At Any Price’, a refreshingly detailed argument against rural contentment.
Director Ramin Bahrani (‘Man Push Cart’, ‘Goodbye Solo’) has always been strong with the intimate details of job stress. Here, he paints those preoccupations with a more confident brush (and bigger budget), resulting in a ’70s-feeling portrait of contemporary anxiety that you can luxuriate in. Alas, some regrettable concessions to plotting have been made, and the harvest of family mistrust needn’t have been made so obviously literal. Zac Efron’s fans should be patient enough to endure domestic intrigue without the left-field accidental death of a minor character – weren’t Quaid’s worry lines sufficient? The fine cast takes the movie as far as it will comfortably go, until Bahrani gets a case of Great American Play–itis.