22 July 2013

AT ANY PRICE (Ramin Bahrani, 2012, US) - Moral Bankruptcy


Premiering at Cannes in 2012, Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani's At Any Price seemed to disappear without a trace. Some critics dismissed the film outright whereas the late Roger Ebert, a champion of Bahrani, and perhaps a singular voice in doing so, reiterated the director's mastery. At Any Price was touted as Bahrani's shift into the mainstream and while this was his first time to work with major stars such as Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, the focus on marginalised aspects of American society, this time exploring a family and its ties to modern agriculture, is consistent with his past works. With shades of East of Eden and The Last American Hero, this is Bahrani's first real exploration of white America and his interests in family are dissected through a father-son narrative that taps into an ugly contemporary age of bankruptcy, austerity and cut-throat capitalism. Less elliptical than films like Goodbye Solo and Chop Shop, At Any Price builds slowly and it is the second half in which domineering father Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) and rebellious son Dean Whipple (Zac Efron) are brought together over a tragic incident, transforming a pedestrian social drama into a semi quotidian religious allegory about modern America. A denouement in which parents collude to mask the crimes of their children bears witness to a debilitating social condition that placates guilt with a survivalist instinct passed down through generations of familial pride. Performances are uniformly brilliant especially Dennis Quaid who offers some of his best work as a slimy, incongruous and pathetic father. Bahrani operates in the world of American independent cinema and his marginalisation compared to his contemporaries such as Kelly Reichardt remains somewhat of a mystery and travesty.

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