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Movie Review: Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Eric Schlosser and Linklater based on the book by Schlosser
Fox Searchlight, 2006

The always-reinventing Linklater took on two book adaptations in 2006, with Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and with Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation.  They are a socially-conscious Linklater that had only been hinted at in his dialogue-driven 90’s films.  I didn’t really like Darkly that much; I felt it was a little more on visuals than story, and Fast Food Nation is one of those movies that would have been better as a documentary.

Since Schlosser’s book is about the history of fast food, with comments of the meatpacking industry comparable to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, the fictionalized account isn’t as damning as it could have been, although the message is certainly clear.  A sort of mix-up of parts Lone Star and Super Size Me, Fast Food Nation is a sickening look at what goes on behind the scenes to bring hamburgers to the public.

We have immigrants Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (lovely Catalina Sandino Moreno), who are making their way across the border and are put to work at a meatpacking plant, a hard-working fast food employee, Amber (Ashley Johnson), and a fast food marketing bigwig, Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), who has been sent by his company to Colorado to find out why traces of fecal matter are showing up on the meat, yes, the meat that you and I may unknowingly be eating.

Most of the drama comes from the immigrant side of the story.  With supervisor Mike (Bobby Cannavale) using his position of power to screw all the hot chicks who come his way, and then treat them like crap (with the addition of drugs into the mix), to the harsh, unsafe conditions that lead to major injuries and/or death that big corporations can get away with concerning immigrants (hey, they get paid more than they ever would in their country), to finally, the fact there is no quality control and often things get on the meat that were never intended.  And yes, there is the matter of the sad state of cattle, getting slaughtered and are even scared to run away when the opportunity rises.

Don also runs into the politics of the big corporation when he discovers incredible testimony that troubles him, but is powerless to do anything about it.  Meanwhile, Amber begins to have second thoughts about her job, meaningless as it is, that it’s the wrong path to take, beginning to hear bad things herself.

What I dislike about movies like this is that they are supposed to create a sense of outrage, but there’s hardly any suggestions for action (it is kind of like the Michael Moore documentaries, entertaining as they may be).  We can collectively decide not to go to fast food restaurants, but how many people would it take to stop unfair business practices?  In the end, you are told, “This is how it is,” and in some ways you’re also being told, “This is how it will always be,” and deal with it.  I sometimes wonder if these movies are for the rich and powerful, and maybe one person will say, “I’m going to try to put an end to this,” but maybe those people are unreachable.

So, it’s an overall decent movie, but I still would have preferred a non-fictional account.

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