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Photo by Matt Dinerstein - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

It actually hurts to write this review, as I’ve been a booster of Ramin Bahrani’s work from the moment I saw his debut feature Man Push Cart. His subsequent films (Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo) made it clear that he was not a flash-in-the-pan, but one of the most exciting voices in contemporary American cinema. But nobody’s perfect, and I can only call his newest effort a misfire. As true as I find his other films, this one rang false to me from the very first scene.

Bahrani usually works with nonprofessional actors. Here he has the benefit of an experienced cast, led by Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, but their characters are so hollow and unconvincing I don’t know who could have breathed life into them.

At Any Price purports to show the plight of the modern American farmer. Quaid is more than that, however: he’s an entrepreneur and super-salesman whose overbearing personality has driven one son away from home and threatens to turn his younger boy (Efron) against him. Desperation drives every move he makes, which is understandable given the state of the farm economy. Still, Quaid seems to plant the seeds of his undoing at every turn.

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Photo by Matt Dinerstein - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The last thing one expects is that the film will morph into a grim melodrama. Whatever credibility it retains at that point, after some other unfortunate plotting, disintegrates.

Up to now, Ramin Bahrani’s work has been grounded and organic. At Any Price can only be called an anomaly. However, one misstep cannot negate a notable career; let’s just hope that this gifted filmmaker returns to form with his next project.