Maybe the best picture I’ve seen this year, “At Any Price” signals the arrival of Iranian-American New Yorker Ramin Bahrani in the ranks of major U.S. directors. Switching gears from his neo-realistic slices of New York life like “Chop Shop,” Bahrini turns his laser eye on the surprisingly cutthroat world of Midwestern farming for this classical American tragedy with echoes of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.”
Dennis Quaid, who deserved an Oscar nomination for “Far From Heaven,” may finally get one for his finely limited portrait of Henry Whipple, a third-generation farmer who keeps the family spread going by selling genetically modified seeds. But neither of his sons is interested in carrying on — the oldest is off climbing mountains in Argentina and the younger one (a fine Zac Efron) is a stock-car driver who can’t wait to get out of their small Iowa town. Glad-handing Henry is starting to lose longtime customers and his retired dad (Red West) is strongly suggesting that Henry is losing his competitive mojo. The younger son gets involved with dad’s mistress (Heather Graham’s best work in years) and Henry comes under investigation for illegal activities. Things get worse from there.
This is a heightened style of drama that’s not particularly popular with many critics these days — think “Giant” — but in Bahrini’s skillful hands, it couldn’t be rendered more skillfully. The performances, the staging, the editing, the script are expert all across the board and it all builds to a solid dramatic payoff and devastating comment on contemporary American society. Sony Pictures Classics, which picked up North American rights before its premiere in Venice, hasn’t announced a release date for the wonderful “At Any Price.”