REVIEW: At Any Price

26 08 2013

If a movie makes you feel anger, it has to be effective on some level.  The ability to generate some kind of feeling in the viewer means the movie is communicating something right.

In the case of “At Any Price,” it’s easy to get angry because Ramin Bahrani’s script, co-written with Hallie Newton, is a well-plotted story that takes a look at flawed people on their worst behavior.  Though the film takes place in the American heartland, far away from the excesses of Wall Street, thematic similarities to films like “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage” make for a shocking testament to how just how pervasive a strain of reckless greed is running through our country.

Dennis Quaid’s Dean Ripple may deal with seeds rather than financial derivatives, but the ethical dilemmas he’s faced with at the farm differ remarkably little from the ones that must be dealt with at the stock market.  Dean can cheat and get ahead of his competitors, who seem to be beating him at every turn, or play an honest game for better or for worse.  He ultimately drags his son Henry into his moral mire, though not without plenty of Midwestern soap opera-style family conflict.

Bahrani’s allegory is quite clever, but it’s a bit overloaded and overwrought.  It never ceases to amaze me how subtlety always seems in such scant quantities in film, and Bahrani’s heavy-handed direction manages to essentially cancel out the nuances of the script.  “At Any Price” did manage to make me feel emotionally empty as justice remains miscarried, but at what cost?  For Bahrani, that pit in my stomach came at the expense of the story’s quiet power.  B-2stars