Fast Food Nation
March 21, 2007
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Wilmer Valderrama, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Dano, Ashley Johnson, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Luis Guzman, Esai Morales, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke,
Adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name by Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (2006) is something of a departure for filmmaker Richard Linklater as it is his most overtly political effort – a scathing indictment of the fast food industry as it asks the question, what exactly are we eating at places like McDonald’s and where does the food come from?
Don Henderson (Kinnear) is the vice-president of marketing at Mickey’s Burgers and one day is told to go to Colorado and investigate an incident involving university students who have discovered that there is an unhealthy amount of cow excrement in the meat. Another storyline involves a group of Mexicans trying to illegally cross the border into the United States, first by foot and then crammed together in a beaten-up van and dropped off at various points. A third storyline features a group of teenagers who work at Mickey’s and how one of them (Johnson) undergoes a political awakening thanks to a couple of university students.
Linklater shows us how a burger is put together at a fast food restaurant and we see just how much we are at the mercy of the people who prepare our food – most often teenagers who don’t seem to care about their jobs. He also shows us the entire process including an incredibly graphic depiction of how cows are slaughtered that will turn you off meat for quite some time. The film also draws attention to the ubiquitous presence of major fast food chains in our daily lives. It is so pervasive that we are hardly aware of it.
The most heartbreaking story is that of the Mexican immigrants and how two (Valderrama and Moreno) in particular are put to work at a meat processing plant and paid very little considering the dangerous nature and conditions of their workplace. Initially, they live with several others in a small motel room. They are the mercy of the meat packing company because they are in the country illegally and therefore are paid under the table. If they mess up or aren’t productive than they are out of a job and in even more trouble.
While Super Size Me (2004) was a cute documentary on the dangers of eating too much fast food, Fast Food Nation takes way more chances as it exposes how the industry really works. It makes you think about where your food comes from. It also shows us what happens to Mexican immigrants when they come to America – they are given menial jobs, live in awful conditions and are exploited by their handlers. We know that this happens but it is rare that a Hollywood studio-backed film depicts it with such unflinching clarity.
This is Linklater’s most ambitious film to date as he juggles multiple storylines and a cast populated by movie stars, making a political statement like recent movies, Traffic (2000) and Syriana (2005). Fast Food Nation, at times, loses its focus and spends too much time on the trivial aspects of some of its characters but it is able to get back on track soon enough. Of course, he has dealt with large casts before with Slacker (1990) and Dazed and Confused (1993) but the political and social commentary has always been in the background. With this film, the emphasis is on bringing this commentary front and center. Fast Food Nation is heartbreaking at times and makes you angry because of what happens to some of the characters and how the fast food industry operates. There is a very important message that lies at the heart of this movie and it’s a shame that it got such lousy theatrical distribution. Hopefully, it will enjoy a new life on DVD.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Richard Linklater and screenwriter/author Eric Schlosser. The author wasn’t interested in making a documentary from his book and proposed to Linklater that they take the title and creative a narrative film that remained true to the spirit of the book. The two men spend most of their time split between discussing factoids pertaining to the content of the film and anecdotes about making it.
“Manufacturing Fast Food Nation” is an hour-long documentary on the making of the film. Producer Jeremy Thomas read Schlosser’s book and felt that it would make a good fictional film as opposed to a documentary and got Linklater and Schlosser together. They agreed to take some of the book’s themes and make movie. There is plenty of on-the-set and location footage of Linklater working with the actors mixed with interview soundbites from cast and crew.
Also included is a “Photo Gallery” that features nice, black and white photographs of characters and various locations.
“The Meatrix” is a funny parody of The Matrix movies substituting humans with cows on a farm. Two more installments are included that mix satire with information.
Finally, there is the “Backwards Hamburger,” another animated bit of propaganda extolling the evils of the fast food industry by showing the process in reverse.