AT ANY PRICE, the new film from Ramin Bahrani -- the fellow who, over nearly a decade, has given us three small films, all good to varying degrees, each of which has taken place in a constrained time frame and has centered on very few characters, one of them an immigrant to the US: the early and somewhat overpraised Man Push Cart, the better Chop Shop, and his best film so far, Goodbye Solo. Now, what a surprise it is to find him deep in America's heartland, writing and directing the story of a successful farming and seed-selling family with an increasingly tenuous hold on decency.
Monsanto (though the name given them here is the irony-laden "Liberty") -- this family, too, is saddled with its own not-so-hot seedling, played very well by Zac Efron (above, left), in a performance moving from light, bright and sexy to increasingly dismal and dark.
Michael Simmonds) and cast capture the look, sound and feel -- in fact, the whole social context -- of our so-called heartland quite well, whether the scene be race-car driving, farming, funerals, town meetings or church services.
Dennis Quaid, above, gives another of his good-ol-boy-with-an-edge performances that, while threatening to go over the top, never does and instead helps anchor the movie via his character's sometimes creepy combination of family-and-business-above-all.
Kim Dickens, above, right, good as always, in her too-limited role as the materfamilias.)
Maika Monroe, shown, left, above and below), followed by a far too obvious piece of violence, staged rather heavy-handedly (you can see the supposed corpse breathing -- or maybe that's the point: they bury a man who's not dead?). During all this, you first hope that the filmmaker will not go there, for it's too typical and simple-minded. Once he does, you can only suspend your disbelief.
Sony Pictures Classics and running 105 minutes -- opens this Wednesday, April 24, in Manhattan at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in the Los Angeles area at the Arclight Hollywood 15 and The Landmark. Click here to see currently scheduled playdates, cites and theaters.