Some parents hope their children will follow in their footsteps and continue the family business. Other parents don’t give their kids a choice. In At Any Price, Dennis Quaid plays Henry, an Iowa corn farmer and salesman who prides himself on being the chief seed provider for seven counties. Henry is a hustler, a mover — you can’t imagine him ever sitting down to read a book or watch a movie. And he expects the same things from his two boys.
His eldest son went to Iowa State University on a football scholarship and never came back, opting to go mountain climbing in Argentina instead. His youngest, Dean (Zac Efron), dutifully does what’s expected of him, but he yearns to be a NASCAR driver, not sell corn, and has come to resent his father for it (“I don’t want to be a part of this family,” he mutters).
Eventually, Dean’s frustration explodes, and he breaks into an auto parts store and steals an engine that will allow him to compete in a racing trial. Henry, meanwhile, starts losing ground to his competitor and is pressured by his own father (Red West) to get his game together and regain the crown.
At Any Price teaches you a lot about the business of corn seeds and genetic manipulation (the stuff is actually fascinating) but what interests director Ramin Bahrani most are the dynamics of this deeply dysfunctional family. Henry is having an affair with a local woman (Heather Graham), and his wife (Kim Dickens) knows but turns a blind eye, the way people do when they dread confrontation. Dean’s fixation with racing could have come off as a plot device to separate father and son. But Efron sells his character’s inner turmoil and churning anger, which grows over the course of the movie until it finally bubbles over.
And Quaid buries his boyish charm to play a conniving, unlikable man willing to do anything to keep his business afloat — even approaching mourners at a funeral about buying the deceased’s land. The relationship between Quaid and Efron is initially reminiscent of The Great Santini, another story about a son trying to win the approval of his rigid father. But this one ends in a radically different manner, suggesting that underneath those golden skies and swaying fields of cornstalks, darkness sometimes lurks.
Cast: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Kim Dickens, Maika Monroe, Red West.
Director: Ramin Bahnari.
Screenwriters: Ramin Bahnari, Hallie Elizabeth Newton.
Producers: Ramin Bahnari, Pamela Koffler, Justin Nappi.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday May 17 in Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Palace, Boynton Beach; in Palm Beach: Shadowood, Delray, Paradise.