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At Any Price

Some would say Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) has it all. A beautiful wife, successful sons, a booming farming business and a massive estate to call his own are all reasons any man would be happy with his life. With his oldest son, Grant, off on a post-graduation trip overseas, his youngest son, Dean (Zac Efron), is next in line to take over the Whipple farming business. Unfortunately for Henry, Dean is close to his dream of racing in the big leagues, a large step up from his successful career of stock car racing. With the pressure of being the best getting to him, Henry finds himself in a scandal with constant investigation. If this weren't enough, Dean loses grip on his career when the stakes get too high, causing both men to lose focus and risk everything. This is At Any Price.

There's a fascination going on with films and television shows starring characters who are promoted as unlikable. These creators insist that interest in the show/film is not relying on the likability of these characters and it is simply the situations they get themselves in. I.E Lena Dunham's Girls and Judd Apatow's This Is 40. This is something I really cannot get behind. How can audiences get invested in the actions of these characters who are introduced as unlikable/bad people? I'm not saying Director Ramin Bahrani is doing the same technique and purposely classifying these people as bad, but it's easy to piece this ideas together. Once we get into the story, we're introduced to the Henry and Dean Whipple that everyone sees: A hard working son with his determined father willing to make every customer happy. But in the very next scene, we witness Henry cheating on his wife with his old high school flame, Dean drunk driving two hours out of town and shooting the window out of an auto parts store just to steal an engine for his stock car. When these characters get into trouble, we're supposed to feel for them when they have not introduced a single thing to keep us connected to them emotionally. Dean's troubles could somehow be traced back to his father, sure, but Henry's cheating scandal is something he just decides to do. Especially with such a beautiful, loving and caring wife as Irene (Kim Dickens) is, it makes absolutely no sense.

The unfortunate side of this predicament is that anything that happens to these two men throughout the runtime of At Any Price isn't going to matter to the audience. They are simply waiting for the end credits to release them from the never-ending cycle of the Whipple Idea tank. This is a shame, as the stock car racing scenes are well filmed and the drama Henry runs into with his business is actually pretty interesting. Had these characters carried more emotion for audiences to relate to, At Any Price could easily find some indie cred to get some attention to its' name.

Bad writing for the characters is truly disappointing due to the amount of work each actor puts into their respective character. This is the best acting work I've seen Dennis Quaid do in quite a while. Seeing as his biggest work recently was the newly canceled television series Vegas, most people would lose hope on the once great actor. His contribution to At Any Price fights against that thought, despite how his character is viewed in the story. Efron seems to be taking those unlikely roles to skyrocket him to major acting credit (Paperboy, Liberal Arts). Sadly, At Any Price isn't going to help the public opinion on his abilities. Granted, he does good work as Dean and the pressures that come with passion and family, but it never helps his case as a kid with his head constantly in the wrong place. It's especially frustrating that each character has a strong and smart woman in their corner, trying to help them at every turn with the male character refusing help altogether. The women of At Any Price do great work, aside from Heather Graham. She has done some fine work in recent pictures (really just The Hangover), so it's not so much a reflection of her abilities than just sloppy writing for her character. What should leave audiences emotional and interested just leaves them infuriated and annoyed.

At Any Price is an unfocused and uneven story of two unlikable men and their bad decisions that boasts mostly great performances that ultimately fail to help make the movie anything other than aggravating. Given the unfortunate timing of it's release, audiences could see other films about the same concept (Place Beyond The Pines for the father/son dynamic and Promised Land for agricultural drama) rather than trying to find the positives of this picture. The title is ironic, because At Any Price is exactly where I'd go to avoid this film again.

Ryan Sterritt
Review by Ryan Sterritt
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