“At Any Price”
Why is this movie so awkward? The actors are veterans. Could
an inexperienced Director make that much difference? And why would they
all decide to accept a script where absolutely no one is very likeable?
So we can all hate the Heartland, and be glad we’re not the ones growing
corn in Iowa?
Dennis Quaid plays Henry Whipple, a farmer caught in the Wal-Martization
of that industry in the last generation: get bigger or get out. So
the family farm, like the corresponding Mom and Pop hardware store, is rapidly
becoming a thing of the past. (We would include small mainline churches
in that category, as well, but we would digress.) So this Mr. Henry
(“Please don’t squeeze the Charmin’”) Whipple decides that he’s
going to get bigger, by hook or by crook. Mostly the latter. It
seems there is a way to cut corners by signing on with a notorious seed
company which supplies you with their genetically-enhanced brand for your
crops, and you agree to discard the leftover seed and continue buying from
them each succeeding year. But Mr. Whipple discovers that he can clean
the leftover seed and re-sell it, thus providing enough cash to buy the family
farm next door when that guy finally croaks (yes, pretending to mourn at the
graveside service so he could make a business proposition to the grieving
family was a bit over the top).
Henry has two grown sons, both of whom he’d hoped would join him in
the family farm, which he’d inherited from his Pappy, and he’d inherited
from his Pappy. Of course, Henry’s idea was to be in charge as long as
he was alive, and the grown sons kinda wanted to live their own lives.
Grant, the older one, sends postcards from mountain climbs in Venezuela.
We never see him. Dean (Zac Efron), the younger son, is more interested
in drag racing. But he cuts corners, too. He breaks into an auto
parts store to steal stuff that would enhance his engine. But when he
gets off the local dirt track and into a real race, he finds that he doesn’t
actually have the courage to hang with the big boys. And this after his
mother Irene (Kim Dickens) had given Dean her purloined money to enter the big
Well, that’s not the only betrayal here. It seems Henry is
messing around with the local trollop, played by Heather Graham, who then sets
her sights on Dean, which understandably causes the disaffection of Dean’s
girlfriend, Cadence (Maika Monroe). Yeah, like father, like son.
So we’re not really surprised when he finally accepts his destiny and
becomes a sleazebag glad-hander like his Dad. And that’s not the only
dirty little secret that these two peas in a pod share, but Irene, for her
part, prefers being cuckolded for the sake of maintaining appearances, rather
than get out of Dodge like Cadence had the good sense to do.
So, who does that leave for us to root for? Nobody. If
they’re trying to tell us about the dilemma of farm families, it’s a
clumsy instrument. If they’re making a morality tale about keeping
your dignity about you when all around you are giving up theirs, well, there
are much better vehicles than this. Sure, Quaid and Efron get to play
against type. While that may add to their acting experience, it
doesn’t make their characters empathetic. Yeah, sure, there’s a
real, straight-faced representation of the Lord’s Prayer recited in a packed
Lutheran church, and a piece of a serious liturgical funeral, which is a rare
demonstration of old-school churchgoing, but of course there’s the ironic
overlay of the decidedly morally-compromised participants. Sigh.
Skip this one, even for the bargain matinee. It’s not worth the
time At Any Price.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,