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At Any Price (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 105 minutes.

OK for children.

Although I had been vaguely aware of genetically modified food products, I learned about it in a lot of detail when I recently read the book Wheat Belly. I took that advice to heart and gave up eating wheat, which I learned is a far cry from the natural wheat our parents and grandparents ate, and that what we eat now has unexpected side effects.

Ramin Bahrani, who directed and wrote a terrific script (with Hallie Elizabeth Newton), has created a devastating indictment of modern agriculture and genetically modified seeds (GMO), based on an actual incident that he discovered while doing his research. He stayed with a farmer he had met earlier, Troy Roush, who explained to him how he had been investigated by Monsanto for patent infringement in the use of Monsanto’s GMOs and how two agents followed him around. Facsimiles of those agents appear in this picture.

Dennis Quaid gives an Oscar®-quality performance playing Henry Whipple, a third-generation farmer growing corn and selling GMO seeds. Although Henry is devoted to his family, he seems to spend much of his time as a salesman, and a self-centered one at that. He’s got a devoted wife, Irene (Kim Dickens, in a fine performance) and two sons. One of the sons, Dean (Zac Efron) is more interested in becoming a NASCAR race driver than taking over the family farm. Dean has a cute girlfriend, Cadence (played in her film debut by Maika Monroe, in a performance that marks her as a real comer). Henry is cheating on Irene with Meredith (Heather Graham). There are other relationships with other farmers and their families that come to have ravaging effects on the Whipple family.

Quaid is brilliantly cast in this role. He can flash his fantastic smile at a moment’s notice, regardless of what’s going on inside. He is required to express a wide range of emotions in this film and he never fails.

Efron also gives an exceptional performance as the dissatisfied son. Things progress as they do in real life, as the problems of the Whipple family keep piling up. While this is dramatic, it is so well presented that it looks like we are viewing real lives as they unfold as lives do.

Bahrani has directed a socially valuable and entertaining film. This is a view of farm life that shows it to be far from what most people in the city imagine it to be, abetted by the outstanding performances of the entire cast.

March 29, 2013