Man, Clancy Brown probably took this film at any price, because he hasn't been doing anything lately, or at least I don't think he has been, because the poor sucker has been trapped in the world of voice actors, so we never see his odd mug. Well, he could be doing worse, like Dennis Quaid, who might not be doing too bad when you look at his recent hit-miss ratio, but his career is going to need some work after a certain recent decision. Someone probably should have offered Quaid any price to not be in "Movie 43", and the disaster only cost about $6 million, even with its frustratingly star-heavy cast, so Quaid clearly isn't one to ask for all that much money. Oh yeah, Quaid joined "Movie 43" for cheap, and that makes his being attached to the project even more hard to forgive, but hey, I'd imagine he's on the right path to earning back respect with this film, which must be good, seeing as how it also features Zac Efron and Heather Graham, two people who make plenty of good decisions when it comes to films, like Dennis Quaid. Seriously though, I can joke all day about how Zac Efron was miscast, as he is just too pretty to handle the hardcore world of professional car racing, but Efron as Quaid's son is perfect, so Rotten Tomatoes' consensus has it right when it says that Ramin Bahrani has a really good eye for detail. Shoot, last thing that the guy did was a short film about a plastic bag that went on a revelatory journey with slightly philosophical and environmentalist thematic depth and the voice of Werner Herzog, so he at least has a great eye for detail when it comes to arthouse clichés. Don't worry people, this film isn't quite that avant-garde, and yet, as much as I liked it, it still has some questionable areas.
I joke about the compliments to Ramin Bahrani's attention to detail as a storyteller, but there is a certain thoughtfulness to this narrative that thins out rises and falls in plotting for the sake of delicately soaking up depth, and such a meditativeness in storytelling is often pretty effective in reinforcing what compellingness there is to this thin drama, but it leaves the film to limp a bit too much to its point, with only so much kick in atmospheric dynamicity to keep intrigue alive. There's enough entertainment value to this film for its steadiness to ever get dull, but the final product is consistently bland, to some extent, and as if that's not problematic enough, the much of what the film is so meditative on is a bit too familiar. Hardly anything is new about this film that ends up being driven by its formulaic conflicts and character types, and you can't help but notice that, not just because the film is, like I said, a bit too meditative upon its familiar narrative, but because the film has a tendency to take on histrionic tropes. I wouldn't say that the film is quite as melodramatic as certain other critics say, but make no mistake, on top of being formulaic, this film's story is plagued with questionable storytelling touches and, in some areas, moderately thin characters which dilute the genuineness of this pretty human drama. The film goes bloated with too much steadiness, too many familiar beats and too much overblown drama, and gradually loses steam that was so limited to begin with that the film rarely, if ever appears to stand much of a chance of escaping underwhelmingness, no matter how much Ramin Bahrani clearly wants this film to do better than it ultimately does. Bahrani's ambition often ignites an inspiration that in turn ignites a relative high point in storytelling, but most of what Bahrani is celebrating is questionable material, and that's a shame, because this film could have perhaps been more, yet is ultimately rendered too weak by its draggy, familiar, histrionic and overambitious storytelling to escape underwhelmingness. Nonetheless, the final product keeps you going as much as it can, at least from a visual standpoint, as it has some pretty settings, and a visual style that knows how to play up such pretty environments.
Alright, there's really not all that much that's especially special about Michael Simmonds' cinematography, but it is handsome, or at least knows how to capture handsome visuals, taking tasteful advantage of crisp definition and a tight scope to immerse you in the distinct and often lovely Iowa locations with a celebratory appreciation for the environment that ends up playing a hefty role in this drama. ...Okay, so, yeah, I'm making a bit of a stretch when I praise this film's locations, but there is something quite attractively simplistic about this Iowa environment, and that does more than you'd think in coloring up the film's enjoyability, though, as you can imagine, this film can't possibly run all that far on the backs of a good-looking presentation of good-looking settings. This film's story is something of a mess, or at least the telling of this story is, but there's still plenty of depth here, as the story boasts thematic depth that, while typically about as formulaic as most of the other aspects of storytelling, is noble, and often finds itself brought to life by undeniable highlights in direction, because even though the thoughtfulness in Ramin Bahrani's storytelling all too often does little more than thin out rises and falls in narrative structure, there are those moments in which Bahrani soaks up enough of the film's depth to create moving moments, some of which give you effective glimpses into what could have been. Granted, this film was likely never to be too much, as its subject matter is so messy, even in concept, and in execution, it's even messier, but not so messy that Bahrani can't to an adequate job of selling often thin drawn characters, who are, of course, sold more effectively by this film's pretty decent cast. Now, the cast isn't exactly filled with outstanding talents, and even if it was, there's not a whole lot of acting material to work with, yet most everyone has an opportunity to earn your investment, with Dennis Quaid being a relative standout with his convincing portrayal of a questionably drawn character with a couple subtle layers that Quaid sells about as well as he can. Some of the strengths that I just cited are a little bit stronger than a make them sound, and others are about as simply decent as I make them sound, but either way, the point is that there's not a whole lot of strengths to this film, yet there is charm, and plenty of it, so much so that the final product ends up being, not simply endearing, but pretty entertaining. I sure do wish that this film was more than simply entertaining, but the heart to this film is hard to deny, and when such ambition is done justice by highlights in direction and acting, you end up with a final product that endears as decent, if underwhelming.
When the price is paid, all you end up with is a draggy, formulaic, melodramatic and, of course, overly hopeful drama that ultimately collapses into underwhelmingness, but not so deeply that the attractive setting, - tastefully celebrated by Michael Simmonds' crisp photography - relative high points in directorial effectiveness, and inspiration in the performances don't do enough justice to charming ambition to make Ramin Bahrani's "At Any Price" an endearing little drama, though not exactly one to remember all that much.
2.5/5 - Fair