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'Fast Food Nation' Offers You Lies With That
Attempt to undermine junk food giants misses by a mile
Brian Orndorf (briano)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-16 17:15 (KST)   
When Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation debuted in 2001, it was heralded as a supreme work of polemic journalism, tearing back the curtain on the fast food industry, and exposing its dirty little secrets in the tradition of Upton Sinclair. Trouble is, it didn't leave much room for a fictional cinematic treatment.

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That hasn't stopped writer/director Richard Linklater from taking a crack at the material. "Nation" is Linklater's assault on all things exploited and homogenized in America, and it stumbles with every step it takes. In trying to maintain Schlosser's themes and horror stories, the filmmaker has confused himself, leading to an unbearably muddled motion picture that aims to change the world, but can barely make sense of itself.

Linklater's approach to making a dramatic statement out of an informational piece of writing is to arrange three different plot threads that cover the central theme. First we meet the Mexican illegals (Willmar Valderrama, Catalina Sandino Moreno) who struggle through the treacherous border jumping process to settle in Colorado, where the only jobs they can secure are in meatpacking plants run by corrupt supervisors (Bobby Cannavale). Don (Greg Kinnear) is an executive at Mickey's, a fast food giant, sent to Colorado to investigate a claim that animal feces is somehow getting into the meat that makes up the chain's biggest-selling burger. Amber (Ashley Johnson) is a lower-class teenager stuck working at Mickey's, but who dreams of a better life outside of minimum wage and dead end employment.

Linklater casts a wide net to touch on all sorts of industry evils and, in the early scenes of Don's travels to explore the tainted meat, the director is a little more restrained with his writing and direction, electing to allow the homogenized topography of America, with its horde of McDonalds and assorted fast food icons, do all the talking. Setting up the characters, Linklater perfects the intended tingle of impending doom; especially when the Mexicans start their employment at the meatpacking company. I can't think of anything more chilling than the daily routine of suiting up to kill cows, followed by the warm bath of steam as the bloody kill floor is sprayed clean for the next shift.

Linklater soon gets impatient and pushes casual observance aside to make sure everyone in the theater comprehends the talking points presented. To do this, the director has called in a "Muppet Movie" like list of cameos to represent the rainbow of thoughts on the fast food issue.

Bruce Willis turns up as Don's Colorado contact, who warns the slowly horrified suit this is how business is conducted: who cares if a little feces finds its way to your dinner plate, as long as profits are maintained and consumers aren't the wiser. Ethan Hawke plays Amber's uncle, who implores the teenager to get out of her dead end town and challenge the corporations that are raping America. Kris Kristofferson appears as a ranch owner who is being threatened by a tract housing development and machinery-driven meat processing. Finally, songstress Avril Lavigne portrays a member of a PETA-like youth organization who provides Amber with the inspiration to rethink her employment and life.

Performance wise, the cameos are fine, but Linklater uses the celebrities to simply lecture the audience on the assigned topics. It stops just short of the character whipping out pie charts and a laser pointer to hammer home the information that Linklater wants to impart on the viewer. Perhaps this is the residue of the "Nation" book, but when placed inside a dramatic film, it finds the tedium of a college lecture quickly.

©2006 Fox Searchlight Pictures

For his final act, Linklater stops the fleeting glimpses of cow death sprinkled throughout the film and charges hard onto the killing floor. For many, the footage of cows gunned down, beheaded, and gutted for various interior treasures will be more than an eyeful. It fits in the design of the film, since we view the hellish tour through the eyes of Moreno's Mexican character, who has sold her soul to the Devil for this unforgettable employment opportunity. Truthfully, it just seems like another blunt stab by Linklater to make an obvious point and, in a film filled with obvious points, this is the last one that should be met with indifference.

"Fast Food Nation" certainly holds the potential for greatness, and I hope someday another filmmaker will better unlock its frightening tales of horrors and injustice. All Linklater can do is play to the rafters, and for a film that's intended to wean audiences off fast food, you might find yourself purchasing some after the show just to spite this disappointing film.

D+
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Brian Orndorf

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