Saturday, 31 March 2007
FAST FOOD NATION
Fast Food Nation (2006) dir. Richard Linklater
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Wilmer Valderrama, Bobby Cannavale, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Richard Linklater’s dramatic adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction book was unfairly disregarded by critics and theatre owners. Opening in the fall of 2006, the film received mostly negative reviews and quickly disappeared after only a week or two in limited release. It’s unfair because the film is quite good and worthy of the torch-passing from “Traffic” and “Syriana”.
“Fast Food Nation” is indeed like a third part of an unofficial trilogy of American big business vices. Like “Traffic” and “Syriana” it tells the story of a major widespread problem of middle America, in this case how corporate interests in the fast food business prevails over the health and well-being of the American people.
The film is set in classic middle America, a town called Cody, Colorado – the home of the meat processing plant U.M.D., that makes the hamburgers for the not-so-disguised McDonald’s stand-in “Mickey’s”. Greg Kinnear is perfectly cast as Don, the marketing exec who has come to Cody to investigate why unusually high amounts of fecal matter and e-coli have appeared in their “Big One” burgers. Greg is given a tour of the UMD plant and is shown the process of making the patties, only it’s clean and sanitary and trouble-free which causes Don to investigate deeper into the problem. Intercut with this are several other stories from the town – a group of teenagers working their jobs at Mickey’s with the boredom and who-gives-fuck attitude we expect from the people who serve us our food, and a group of Mexicans immigrants who have recently crossed the border illegally and now work the UMD meat processing assembly line.
Kinnear has two great scenes. The first is a meeting with a cattle rancher played by Kris Kristofferson. He informs Kinnear of the atrocities at the UMD plant – the use of illegal, untrained workers, an assembly-line that moves too fast for its workers at the expense of sanitation and safety and an unethical system of killing the animals. Kristofferson says to Kinnear, “they didn’t show you the kill floor did they?” This refers to the worst shift in the plant, the shift operated by the most desperate of illegal aliens, and which, for the malicious foreman (Bobby Cannavale), becomes a form of punishment for his employees. Kinnear is the wrong man for the job. He’s put in a situation where he is morally compromised. He could take the blindfold off the public’s eyes, or he could look the other way, go back to 9 to 5 and provide of his family. The choice is not that simple.
Ashley, one of the teenagers working the cash at Mickey’s, is given a great scene with Linklater’s pal Ethan Hawke. In a classic Linklater scene, Hawke playing Ashley’s activist uncle, muses on the middle-class attitude of playing it safe, going for money and living an anti-septic life of regret. The speech is perhaps out of place for the film but its great none-the-less and informs Ashley to quit her job and fight back against the man.
The storyline of the Mexican immigrants, Sylvia and Raul, is the heart of the film and played well by “Maria Full of Grace’s” Catalina Sandino Moreno and Wilmer Valderrama. They fight to get into the country for the chance to ‘live the American dream’, yet they ironically find themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire. The third act drops the weight of the American dream flat on their backs – Raul is involved in an accident at the plant which forces Sylvia to take a shift on the “kill floor.” The finale is disturbing and not for all viewers and will likely turn many people off meat for a while.
Together these stories paint a cynical picture of the industry. Perhaps not as dramatic as “Traffic” or “Syriana”, but the story is told in the Linklater way, through character and dialogue as opposed to action or suspense. The attitude of corporate America to the entire industry is summed up with Kinnear’s second great scene - a conversation with Bruce Willis’s character, a UMD’s liaison for Mickey’s. When confronted about the presence of fecal matter in the Mickey’s burgers, Willis succinctly sums it all up, “It’s a sad fact of life, Don, but the truth is we all have to eat a little shit every now and then.” Enjoy.
Buy it here: Fast Food Nation