At Any Price (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 7, 2013 by Dennis Amith
Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” is an entertaining and fascinating film that provides insight to modern agriculture, its competitive nature but how far farmers will go to be the best in the business. Featuring a wonderful performance from Dennis Quaid! Recommended!
TITLE: At Any Price
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 104 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:35:1 aspect ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (For Sexual Content, Including a Strong Graphic Image and for Language)
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Screenplay by Ramin Bahrani, Hallie Elizabeth Newton
Producer: Ramin Bahrani, Pamela Koffler, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman, Kevin Turen, Christine Vachon
Executive Producer: Mohammed Al Turki, Ron Curtis, Eric Nyari, Brian Young
Co-Producer: Declan Baldwin, Andrew Levitas
Line Producer: Gary Giudice
Associate Producer: Summer Shelton, Ben Stillman
Music by Dickon Hinchliffe
Cinematograpy by Michael Simmonds
Edited by Affonso Goncalves
Casting by Douglas Aibel
Production Design by Chad Keith
Art Direction by Jonathan Guggenheim
Set Decoration by Adam Willis
Costume Design by Tere Duncan
Dennis Quaid as Henry Whipple
Kim Dickens as Irene Whipple
Aaron B. Oduber as Young Dean Whipple
Jacob R. Oduber as Young Grant Whipple
Zac Efron as Dean Whipple
Patrick W. Stevens as Grant Whipple
Guy Massey as Funeral Pastor
John Hoogenakker as Mr. Pritchard
Laura Atwood as Mrs. Pritchard
Dan Waller as Larry Brown
Maika Monroe as Cadence Farrow
In America’s heartland, farmers are facing increasing competition and for many, the rule for survival is to expand. But how far will farmers go to expand?
This is what filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”, “Plastic Bag”, “Goodbye Solo”) wanted to find out.
Going to Iowa and to stay and learn from farmers, talk about what is happening with today’s farms and learning that farmers are facing not only competition but facing pressure of selling their land because no siblings want to pursue the farming lifestyle but also the risks of not having enough to compete with the most powerful farmers.
And from this experience, Ramin came up with the idea to write and direct the film “At Any Price” which stars Dennis Quaid (“The Day After”, “Vantage Point”, “Frequency”), Zac Efron (“17 Again”, “High School Musical”, “The Lucky One”), Heather Graham (“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”, “Boogie Nights”, “The Hangover”), Kim Dickens (“The Blindside”, Hollow Man”, “House of Sand and Fog”) and Maika Monroe (“The Bling Ring”).
“At Any Price” revolves around the dysfunctional Whipple family.
Henry Whipple is the patriarch who runs the Whipple family farm that was created by his great grandfather and is expected to continue the business by his father. As an enterprising farmer, the Whipple’s are in the business of genetically modified corn seed and is the top seed salesman in seven southern Iowa counties for a major agribusiness corporation. And always striving to be the best in the competitive farming business, Henry knows that expansion is the key of being on top and he often attends funerals of farmers in order to give deals to families of buying out their land.
Seen by grieving families as “sharks”, Henry knows that chances are that siblings are not wanting to run the farm and rather sell, so he tries to teach the business to his youngest son Dean (portrayed by Zac Efron), a young man who rather race cars than run a farm.
As Henry’s wife Irene (portrayed by Kim Dickens) tries to make sure everything goes well in the home and both husband and wife follow the adventures of their oldest son Grant (portrayed by Patrick W. Stevens), a college football standout and one traveling the world instead of wanting to come home and run the family farm. Eventually, Henry worries about who will continue the family business if he passes and if his sons will take it over. With Grant going off on travels and not coming home, Henry begins to think that maybe Dean is the son that can run the family farm. Problem is, he knows that Dean is wanting to pursue racing.
For Dean, he’s not close to his father. He sees his father focused more on the “family farming business” than his own kids and puts a lot of pressure on them to take over the family farm. So, Dean tends to get into trouble, vandalizing stores in town and hanging out with his girlfriend Cadence Farrow (portrayed by Maika Monroe) and his friends, getting drunk and having fun.
But his dreams is to race pro, having won the local stock racing tournaments.
But for the Whipple’s, their rivals are the Johnson family. Jim Johnson has further broken into Henry’s farming territory and taking one of his counties and setting himself to be the #1 seed seller in the region, while his son Brad (portrayed by Ben Marten) is Dean’s rival on the race track. The competition between both families of being #1 is tough.
And in trying to be #1, that may include doing things that you’re not proud of. And for Henry, his life starts to change when he is investigated for illegal seeding practices (selling used seeds) and now wondering who may have ratted him out.
So, the stress is high for Henry as he cheats on his wife with the younger Meredith (portrayed by Heather Graham), who also has her eyes on his son, Dean. He also has to deal with a father who puts pressure on him for not damaging the reputation of the farming business that the Whipple family had created long ago. But Henry may have to deal with a son, the future of the Whipple farming business, in ways that he never thought would ever happen.
“At Any Price” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1). There are many scenes that are shot outdoors and so, outdoor scenes are colorful and vibrant. Closeup of characters faces provide quite a bit of detail, colors are warm and black levels during darker scenes are nice and deep, didn’t notice any crush, artifacts or banding. If anything, picture quality for this film on Blu-ray is very good!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“At Any Price” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The film is primarily dialogue and music and is center/front channel-driven. There are moments with surround use via ambiance with crowds or the sounds of overhead aircraft and stock car racing scenes. But the lossless soundtrack is crystal clear and for a film such as “At Any Price”, is appropriate.
Subtitles are in English SDH and French.
“At Any Price” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Ramin Bahrani and Dennis Quaid.
- Toronto International Film Festival Q&A – (13:36) An audience Q&A with Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens and Maika Monroe.
- Rehearsal Footage – (5:35) Prior to the film being made, Ramin Bahrani shot rehearsal footage with other actors on his digital camera. Featuring four scenes.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:18) Theatrical trailer for “At Any Price”.
I have known many farmers in my lifetime. Having been raised in an agricultural area, I learned a lot about the issues faces California farmers. But “At Any Price” shown me a perspective of today’s modern agriculture that I was not familiar with. The business of genetically modified seeds but also logical issues that pertain to farmers in relation to expansion but also an aging demographic of family farming businesses that are threatened primarily because no other family member wants to take on the farming business.
The story of “At Any Price” is rather interesting because filmmaker Ramin Bahrani had six months to stay and live with farmers and learn about the business. While the film is not about any major corporation that specializes in seeds, Ramin presents an interesting storyline of how far farmers would go to continue to be on top. May it be through expansion or by making sure the family stays dominant in their state through interesting farming practices.
In the case of the Whipple family, as featured in the film, the family patriarch is Henry Whipple, a man who thrives on being the #1 seed salesman in Iowa. Having seven counties that he is responsible for, Henry is a man who puts on a forced smile in his face, attending funerals of deceased farmers and approaching to buy their farmland.
He is seen like a shark but the truth is that some of these deceased farmers have no one to watch or maintain the farm, children have moved out of the area to pursue other business and he knows that. He does his research on the individuals and it’s a business that he may not be proud of but he knows that it ensures the Whipple family business to be the top in the state.
But like other farmers, he deals with children who are not so interested in the farming business. For generation after generation, the family business has been pass down to the sons of the family but his oldest, a talented college football player, prefers to travel, while the youngest, prefers to race cars and go after his dream of becoming a professional race car driver.
While many films do have the banal tone of hardworking father never having time with the family and thus is seen like an outsider to the family, in today’s modern agriculture, its one of the sacrifices for business success and that is to focus on the business, take care of the land and do his father proud. And depending on the wife to focus on the family.
“At Any Price” is a story with a juxtaposition, a father who would do anything for the business and then you have the youngest son, Dean, the future racer or the future owner of the Whipple family business.
Dean has a hot temper. Not interested in the family business, all he cares about is winning races and being with his friends and girlfriend. He hates his father interfering with his life and feels that his father put so much into business and now that they are older, he cares for them to take over the family business. Suffice to say, there are significant father and son issues in this film but things head to a very dark path when all hell breaks loose.
But for the sake of the family business, how far would one go?
“At Any Price” at first resembles something that is a slice of life for Americans in the Plain States, Ramin Bahrani then knows how to take the film to a different place when something very bad takes place and the film’s tone changes drastically, in a good way.
Part of the film’s efficacy relies on the talented Dennis Quaid. We have seen great work from Dennis Quaid in the past, but this is a role in which the actor is able to show that he still has it! Playing a businessman who has been morally compromised and the typical American family not pure but flawed and suffice to say, things do get dark.
Zac Efron plays the hothead teenager, Dean, who gets himself in quite a bit of trouble but for the most part, the scenes with both father and son are the most explosive and emotional, and becomes the better performances of the film.
Actress Heather Graham also makes an appearance in the film but in this role of Meredith, she may as well be the town’s floozie, who has a sexual liaison with the married Henry and yet also wanting to hook up with his son Dean.
Possibly the most interesting supportive role goes to Maika Monroe who play’s Dean’s girlfriend Cadence. Because Dean is not around, Henry decides to mentor Dean’s girlfriend, and she eventually is the important connection to the story of Henry’s illegal farming practice. I don’t know too many girlfriends who would help their boyfriend’s father with farming but it was an interesting role, and how she is utilized by Bahrani.
A major plot that does happen in the film is surrounding the use of seeds. This is where I was not too familiar with the practice of seeds, but in America, there are major corporations that specialize in production and selling these genetically modified seeds to farmers. The reason why Henry is being investigated is because he allegedly purchases these seeds from a major seed company, washes them and replants them. This is illegal because the seeds are patented intellectual property and farmers must pay for each time the seeds are used. Because Henry buys the land from other farmers who are deceased and possibly buy them from a major company that they were contracted with, he takes the seeds, rewashes them and resells them.
But with the investigators now wanting to test his crop to see if his seeds are in fact his or came from the genetically modified seeds and if so, he can be fined as seeds are patented.
There are various court cases in regards to the farming industry and seeds but to see it in the film, it was an eye-opener to know that farmers have to pay for seeds every year and are not allowed to re-use the ones they have. But also the issues that farmers face in America’s heartland.
As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is great. Most of the scenes are outdoors, colors are vibrant and as for lossless audio, while a front-channel driven soundtrack, there are moments where you hear aircraft flying overhead or crowd ambiance. And there is a good number of special features including an audio commentary and Q&A at a film festival.
Overall, Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” is an entertaining and fascinating film that provides insight to modern agriculture, its competitive nature but how far farmers will go to be the best in the business. Featuring a wonderful performance from Dennis Quaid! Recommended!
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