CAPITALIST morality tales about men in expensive suits in corner offices are commonplace, but "At Any Price" is a different animal.
Here, the capitalist in question drives an air-conditioned super-tractor, and runs a commercial farming operation as large and complex - and as predatory - as any business you can name.
His name is Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid), a back-slapping businessman whose ingratiating smile, folksy plaid shirts and pressed jeans disguise a fairly ruthless set of business principles.
The seed corn for his burgeoning family business is . . . seed corn. He's contracted with a Monsanto-like firm to market their genetically modified seed to area farmers, a business so profitable he uses the proceeds to buy up or rent out as much acreage as he can acquire.
He's in a cut-throat competitive battle with another ambitious farmer (Clancy Brown), and could use some extra hands, but one son is away on a mountain-climbing adventure, and the other (Zac Efron) is a rebellious dirt-tracker who hates farming and has his sights set on NASCAR.
"At Any Price," has much to recommend it - it brings fresh perspective to an overlooked and often romanticized corner of American life, and there are some vivid and surprising character wrinkles.
The father-son conflict is pretty stale, but when dad takes on the son's bored and wayward girlfriend (Maika Monroe) as an intern, "At Any Price" begins to settle into a different, more comfortable and idiosyncratic rythym.
There's so much good here, you wish the movie were a little better. But so many details seem wrong. Quaid's performance, for instance, is pitched a little too high. We get that his character uses his hyper charm as a weapon, but he's too "on" too often.
And "At Any Price" builds to an Old Testament climax that feels out of joint with the rest of the movie.
A disappointment, given that "Price" is the first big-ish budget movie from revered American independent director Ramin Bahrani ("Chop Shop"), whose work deserves a broader audience.