Dennis Quaid (G.I. Joe: Rise of The Cobra, The Express) stars in this gripping drama with unexpected consequences centered on America’s heartland and the future of farming– AT ANY PRICE with Zac Efron (The Lorax, 17 Again), directed by Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart), in theaters May 3. AT ANY PRICE was one of the last film reviews from the late Roger Ebert.
The Whipple Farm in Iowa corn country has been in the family for three generations. Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) oversees a farming empire that has grown to over 3,000 acres; riding high while his wife Irene (Kim Dickens) presides over a large and comfortable farmhouse.
Henry has always favored his eldest son Grant (Patrick Stevens), a football star, over his younger, more rebellious son Dean (Zac Efron), who was drawn to racecar driving. When Grant leaves to see the world outside of Iowa, Dean is forced to shoulder the weight of his father’s ambitions and expectations. Despite Dean’s success on the local stock car racing circuit, Henry makes it clear that Dean’s place is in the family business.
When a high-stakes investigation into their family business is exposed, father and son are pushed into an unexpected crisis that threatens the family’s entire livelihood.
I sat with Bahrani and Quaid (on the eve of his 59th birthday) at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. Excerpts from our conversation follow–
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: The story is set in Iowa, an iconic symbol of America’s agricultural bounty and political leanings. Is that your intent with this film?
Ramin Bahrani: I would just say that I am showing what I saw. I went to Iowa and lived with farmers. I spent a lot of months there and what I noticed was the farmers were so warm and so welcoming of me; they had deep love for their fellow farmers and their community.
But the system at play, the economic forces at play has caused so much pressure that they are prepared to cut out their neighbor to succeed and survive. I think this is something that we’re all feeling in the country where the systems are so out of whack for a handful of select people that the rest of us just struggle to get by. We find ourselves doing things we wouldn’t normally do or even think are correct to do.
I think these are the pressures that the Quaid character is under. I mean from the beginning of the film he’s not a likeable person and little by little you realize the pressures that he’s under cause him to behave this way…I wanted to show that.
Talk2SV: Do you have a comment about that observation?
Dennis Quaid: Basically, for me, it was a human story between a father and his sons trying to pass on the legacy of the farm that had been passed on to him. Henry, my character, romanticized the way it used to be; having a farm and passing that on to his sons. But he now lives in a different world than the world he grew up in– trying to reconcile that with his own feelings, trying to give this farm to his sons– and they don’t want it. He’s also living in a world of farming which has become big business and it’s very cutthroat. He is caught up in that himself, trying to get ahead for his family and for himself. He compromises a lot of his own values in the process and has to believe that he is doing the right thing, essentially, the weight of all that becomes too heavy.
Talk2SV: Genetically Modified Organisms (commonly known as GMO foods) factors principally in this movie, a real political football.
Rahmin Bahrani: Farm subsidies have been set up to make certain things cheaper than others, for example, fast food snacks shouldn’t cost such small amounts of money by comparison to healthier choices. Now you’re getting into huge economic and policy making issues that this film barely gets into.
Talk2SV: You talk about policy making. The last time I saw you was about five years ago and at that time I saw you on C-SPAN addressing members of Congress. Do you have political pursuits that perhaps drew you to this film?
Dennis Quaid: At the time, I was just trying to raise awareness of medical errors that happen every day in hospitals. It’s part of a huge system to try to bring those down; in doing this film I have to say, no, I don’t really have a political agenda. What I found in this movie was a very interesting story with very interesting characters and that’s what I wanted to do.