"At Any Price": Death of a Corn Salesman

Ramin Bahrani's exercise in miserablism At Any Price wants to be about many things, but the overriding theme is that being a family farmer in today's America really sucks. While that's no great revelation, the struggles of corn farmer and seed merchant Henry (Dennis Quaid) against investigators from GMO companies would almost be enough for its own movie, but At Any Price is overstuffed with other equally depressing conflicts, including his disappointment with his rebellious, wannabe NASCAR-driver son Dean (Zac Efron), and Henry's own moral failings in the form of shady business practices and a not-really-secret mistress (Heather Graham). Quaid clearly relishes the opportunity to play Henry as a modern Willy Loman, all sweaty glad-handing and fake smiles with his customers, followed by confusion at how good intentions and free candy bars can fail to win friends and influence people. (It's not too late to retitle it Death of a Corn Salesman!) But for all its wrist-slashing melodrama and dangling subplots, At Any Price does improve on other recent father-son dramas like Mud or The Place Beyond the Pines by including some well-written female characters (perhaps thanks to co-screenwriter Hallie Elizabeth Newton?), most notably Dean's girlfriend Cadance (Maika Monroe), who gets to grow and have an arc and be her own person. So that's progress.

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