October 21, 2014

At Any Price: Thoughtful study of fathers and children

Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help you choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new drama starring Dennis Quaid, At Any Price.

 

Any father has dreams of the worlds he can create for his children. Perhaps, at times, we let the ambitions we imagine as fathers get in the way of the lives we impact, permitting our expectations for our children to reach beyond our judgment. No matter how well intentioned we may be, we can forget that children are as entitled to live their own lives as we once were.

Henry Whipple is a smooth talker. As a man who sells seeds to farmers in the Midwest, he never hesitates to exaggerate the truth to help close a deal. As a husband who refuses to feel guilty for ignoring commitments, he rarely hesitates to tell a necessary story. As a father who willingly uses his children as props in his story, he boldly creates expectations that limit their freedom to choose a future. Perhaps he copies the way his father raised him; maybe his ambition exceeds his judgment. No matter the relationship, this father willingly manipulates anyone to get his way.

Ramin Bahrani’s At Any Price refuses to sugarcoat its revelations about selfish parenthood. In the secure hands of this thoughtful writer/director — best remembered for the Belgian film Goodbye Solo — this examination of parental ambition soars in its willingness to study the ugly realities. At Any Price is not a gentle tribute to a father who cares, just as it is not a predictable look at how children become victims. Instead Bahrani suggests that the dysfunction in families emerges from seeds planted long ago. He contends that only when we make deliberate attempts to nurture relationships can we hope for different outcomes. Otherwise anything we grow may be as poisoned as the seeds we originally plant.

The father’s layers of dysfunction give Dennis Quaid the best film role he has secured since surprising moviegoers with his dramatic performance in Far From Heaven in 2002. Henry’s complexities give Quaid the chance to deliver many of his trademark gestures, from his toothy smile to his hearty laugh. But he reaches far beyond. Our familiarity with his personality makes it easy to embrace the surface of Henry without questioning the man’s soul, a balance that renders the revelations powerful. Because we believe in the sincerity of Henry’s words, we are less prepared for the reality of his actions. Quaid makes us believe every moment in a performance of depth, conviction and spontaneous emotion. As his son, Zac Efron delivers a strong portrayal of a child who simply wants to stand alone in the sun. The role gives this performer from High School Musical and Hairspray a chance to demonstrate he brings more to the screen than predictable charm.

As we enter the busy movie season of big film titles with enormous budgets, a small movie might be easy to overlook. At Any Price takes us where few movies travel, to the emotional center of complicated relationships. The film reminds us that happy endings are impossible to manage especially if the person directing the action is a masterful manipulator of anyone he encounters.

 

Film Nutritional Value

At Any Price

* Content: High. At Any Price demands that we reach beyond the surface behaviors to get to know what motivates the characters.

* Entertainment: High. Even though the relationships are complex, and the content serious, the strong performances contribute to a worthwhile visit to the movies.

* Message: High. The film challenges us to look at ourselves, the behaviors we may need to address, and the relationships we must savor.

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to consider such important issues, prompted by a well-created film, is worth the time and money.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the direction that parents provide that, no matter how well intentioned, can be misinterpreted.

 

At Any Price is Rated R for “sexual content, a strong graphic image and language.” It runs 105 minutes.

4 Popcorn Buckets