Zac Efron has spent the last few years increasingly diversifying his career, and has done an excellent job of recasting the image that he could quite happily have settled for and been successful at. Instead, he started shifting gears in 17 Again, took on a drama like Charlie St. Cloud, has a great little role in the upcoming Liberal Arts, and will soon be seen in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, alongside Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, and Nicole Kidman.
Ramin Bahrani’s ‘At Any Price’ is an excellent further example of this recent trend, switching gears and going for something more challenging, different in spades to his earlier films, showing us just how strong a dramatic actor he is as well.
Starring the brilliant Dennis Quaid and Efron as the father-and-son leads, At Any Price is a moving drama that lives absolutely in its characters.
Quaid plays farmer Henry Whipple, husband and father of two, who inherited his farm from his father before him, who inherited the farm from his father before him. From the outset, Henry is not a character we can easily relate to, nor do we feel sympathy for him when the cracks in his life begin to widen. Initially, I mistakenly believed this to be a flaw in the script, thinking that Henry was a character we were supposed to be feeling for. I quickly realised, however, that entirely the opposite is true – he is the patriarch who was never there for his children, yet nevertheless expects them to be there for him to pass down the family farm for generations to come.
Having grown up with this lack of a father figure, the eldest of his two sons takes the first chance he can to leave the farm and his family behind. Henry then turns to his youngest, Dean (Efron), to mould as the future head of the farm, but he, too, has pinned his hopes elsewhere, with dreams of becoming a race-car driver and leaving the farm in his tracks.
When the cracks in Henry’s professional and personal life do begin to widen, and the problems with his business become increasingly difficult to manage, it is then that the story begins to fully unfold and Henry slowly starts to break down, and it is finally here that we start to sympathise with him.
Quaid and Efron are brilliant in the leads, with the former giving a strong portrait of a father willing to do anything to get ahead in his business life, only to discover that he is doing it at the cost of losing his family, and later realising what that means for him. Efron, too, is stellar as the young Dean, giving further proof of what a fantastic actor he’s becoming, and an indication of where his career will be heading in the years to come. During the Q&A of its North American premiere, Efron spoke of his hopes to do more roles like this, and that would definitely be something to look forward to.
Relative newcomer Maika Monroe is nothing but fantastic as Efron’s girlfriend, Cadence, a young girl from a broken home who adopts herself into the Whipple family, looking to Dean’s parents for guidance and a lesson or two in growing up. Monroe is certainly one to keep an eye on, and with upcoming roles in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, we’ll hopefully be seeing much more of her soon.
The final third of At Any Price features an entirely unexpected turn of events, which lead to a power-house display of emotions on both Quaid and Efron’s parts. Ultimately, the film rises on their shoulders – it is very much a character study of this family, and the recent state of the American farming community, and with Quaid and Efron putting in such strong performances, there is much brilliance to be found here.
Sony Pictures Classics have already acquired US distribution rights ahead of the film’s Venice debut earlier in the month, so naturally they must agree, and with a bit of luck, it should be in theatres sooner rather than later for it to find a vast audience. With such a strong blend of genres within it, I think the only difficult part will be cutting a trailer; it may not be the easiest film to sell, and I’m looking forward to seeing how SPC market it.