Review: At Any Price (Zac Efron Remains Too Sexy For "Real" World)
At Any Price is the newest and biggest film by the man who made Goodbye, Solo and the still championed Chop Shop. Sadly, the heft of the film's cast and the social issues it raises drown the drama out of what’s otherwise an old fashioned family potboiler.
Good son Dean Whipple (Efron) rattles his cage because it’s there to be rattled. Dad Henry (Dennis Quaid) is more salesman than corn farmer but as farmers go, he’s not “living off the land” like Norman Rockwell showed us. Farming is high risk and farmers rely as much on seed sales as crops, relying on so many machines they barely touch soil. Trade Quaid for Tom Cruise and make the tractor a little rounder and you’d almost have Oblivion.
I could bore you with hints at how At Any Price fulfills the promise of its title, but more intriguing is how it doesn’t. The Whipple family, with their bendy name and wimpy ways, contain a kernel of power in their mother Irene (the ever perfect Kim Dickens) whom they regularly gift with disappointment and betrayal. Henry screws around with Heather Graham (hitting a career peak as an aging slut) and Dean betrays his girlfriend with her thereafter. Not since Monsters Ball has the sharing of a woman by father and son seemed so demeaning and sad. While sex is icky in At Any Price fighting is disturbingly hot. Dean’s deadly tussel with his primary rival is almost gay softcore. (I’m crossing myself for that thought right now.)
Dean’s older brother is globetrotting, playing prodigal son and unintentionally turning Dean into a super-selfish George Bailey. These traits help the film feel like a modernized bible story, but the gross part is the moral is lost in the thousand mistakes these men make. The men recall characters like those from The Weatherman or the Rabbit Redux novels. Maybe it’s me, but I hate those men, and their inability to see the magic or the preciousness ahead of them doesn't make them "flawed," it makes them worthless. Let them defile the land and have nothing to show for it; the land will recover. As for At Any Price, we don't need to love the characters to care for them but not hating them will help us build a bridge to apathy PDQ.