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This movie is a fast food chain's worst nightmare. The trans fats, chemicals and artificial flavors these corporations pump into their so-called "food" has been slowly killing a generation of children for long enough, and finally someone's come out with a film revealing the inner workings of this dishonest and dangerous industry. The imagery is compelling, with a convincing and talented cast. This is the payback fast food corporations have needed for a long time coming. Hopefully many will see this movie and walk away better educated in order to live a longer, happier, and most importantly, healthier life. Watch out for fast food industry propagandists posing as film critics in order to discredit this film, their future and income very well depends on the ignorance of the general population. (Cigarette corporations anyone?)
This is a difficult film to watch if you are as tired as I am of being
ashamed of this country. But maybe, as the film itself says, "The bad
guys win until they don't." So go and see it.
It's well done, with an excellent cast, a reasonable script, cinematography that is occasionally better than you wish it were, and excellent editing. It's a complex film that sets out to tell a number of stories that it believes are inextricably entwined... and succeeds pretty well in doing that. It deals with a number of themes and threads ... social, political, and "human stories" ... and connects them all to a process we have collectively enabled ... the high jacking of the food we eat as well as the culture and economy that should nurture and sustain us ... and instead leave us fat and still hungry.
Warning to those who love animals, other humans, and may not be sufficiently desensitized to violence and gore .... you will never eat a hamburger again after seeing this film. You might even go on to question chicken. And you will lose any illusions you might have cherished in the past about the extent to which the industry that sells us this crap goes on to affect the lives of people across the Americas.
You may not enjoy watching Fast Food Nation, but you should make the effort to see it. And, you should make it a point to take at least one person you love that has been eating this kind of junk. You will have done your good deed for the day ...
FAST FOOD NATION Written by Eric Schlosser & Richard Linklater Directed
by Richard Linklater
I've tried on a number of occasions to eliminate McDonald's from my diet. The first time I tried was a few years back, after reading Eric Schlosser's non-fiction work, FAST FOOD NATION. I remember going to buy fries for the last time before reading the chapter entitled, "Why the Fries Taste so Good." I had to go for that last fry before I could never look at them the same way again. I went for months without a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder with cheese but it didn't last. Eventually I succumbed to my cravings that persisted despite the time that had elapsed. I knew what I was doing was wrong but as I bit into my two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun, I conveniently forgot about all the chemicals in the meat, the subliminal advertising geared towards toddlers and the migrant, illegal workers in dangerous meat rendering factories that made my burger possible. No sooner had I had my last bite did my stomach twist into a tangled mess. The pain was both horrible and familiar. Unfortunately, Richard Linklater's narrative interpretation of Schlosser's novel is nowhere near as nauseating or as a big a turn-off as the feeling of a Big Mac sitting at the bottom of your stomach.
The decision to translate FAST FOOD NATION from a non-fiction work of in-depth investigative journalism into a narrative film is a bold one. I was apprehensive at first but Schlosser's involvement co-writing the screenplay with Linklater made me less so. Shaping facts into a story certainly humanizes the global implications of the fast food industry but if the narrative is not compelling then there isn't much of a point. FAST FOOD NATION tells different stories to show the wide reach of how many are affected by the fast food industry. Greg Kinnear plays Don Anderson, an advertising executive responsible for The Big One, the latest burger success at Mickey's, the fictional fast food chain at the center of the film. Don must investigate reports that there are significant traces of cow manure in the meat (Fun!). Ashley Johnson plays Amber, a teenage Mickey's employee who juggles school and work while she begins to see her role in the corporate machine that is waiting in her future. Wilmer Valderrama and Catalina Sandino Moreno play Raul and Sylvia, two Mexican illegal immigrants who have been brought into the United States specifically to work at the rendering plant that manufactures the millions of patties that become The Big One. Very little is revealed about the characters themselves as they are merely symbols for the bigger picture. Consequently, there is very little identification with the film. A film that is trying to tell everyone, "America this is what you've become," needs the audience to feel like this is their America.
What FAST FOOD NATION best exemplifies is America's complacency with the progression of its society. The problems don't stop at Mickey's. The fast food industry is merely just one faceless industry that is driving the American people into hopeless futures. Kinnear's Don is a prime example. He has spent his life packaging products, feeding them to people the way they like it. All the while, he has also been feeding his convenient lies to himself as well. A successful burger comes at a cost and as he travels from his board room to the assembly line and begins speaking with people who don't have any stake in the production of The Big One, he understands that there are truths under his lies that he cannot go on ignoring. By the time we see him bite into his third burger, his apprehension to do so is rampant. Yet, he still takes that bite. This is what we do. We get fed a ton of information from different angles. The product pushers tell us how wonderful it is and the non-believers prove otherwise. Schlosser's book, which clearly details all the subtle atrocities the fast food industry unleashes into the fabric of America to make one more dollar at the expense of its loyal customers, is well researched and fact-checked. The flip side to the convenience of fast food, from obesity to the exploitation of underage employees, is being discussed by too many people and with increasing validity to be ignored. Yet millions still take that bite.
Linklater does not shy away from expressing his disappointment in the American people nor does he mince words about his lack of optimism relating to making change on the subject. Each character's story is brought to a close and none of them are any better for any of their efforts. Some end up exactly where they wanted not to. Some end up continuing to support the industry despite their newfound knowledge. All these choices are made to ensure money is still coming in, to ensure the American dream is still within reach. Even the youth of tomorrow fail at their attempts to affect the future. The attempt itself does show a trace of Linklater's hope, albeit it fleeting. Despite all this, Linkalter still wants to do his part. The last ten minutes of FAST FOOD NATION bring about some of the more gruesome footage found in the film. We finally get a tour of the "kill floor" at the rendering plant, with plenty of blood and dead cow to go around. The nausea comes too late in FAST FOOD NATION but you certainly won't be rushing for another burger any time soon.
I had the chance to see this film at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Of all the films I saw, this one was the most disappointing, and the most shockingly mediocre. The film jumps around between a few different, barely interconnected stories, yet none of these segments are explored enough to draw the audience in. For example, towards the end of the film, I began to realize that Greg Kinnear had completely disappeared from the movie without a trace. He is not again seen until the ending credits. The film seems to pride itself on continually throwing in more and more familiar faces, yet these actors prove to be more of a distraction than anything else. Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Avril Lavigne, Bruce Willis, and others all pop up for a brief scene or two, yet for the most part, they fail to leave any lasting impression. At the films end, I left the theater feeling no more enlightened, no more informed, and no more interested in the topics discussed throughout the movie. Richard Linklater is a great director, and he has cast some great actors, but still, Fast Food Nation fails to compel or leave any sort of impact. My guess is that a year from now, most people will have forgotten about this movie entirely.
Apparently, ever since Stephen Gaghan bored everyone senseless with his
intertwining storytelling techniques for Syriana (2005), Richard
Linklater's latest project, a political satire-drama about the fast
food industry and its various potholes, adopts the same strategy to the
same sort of effect in Fast Food Nation. Among the protagonists
includes Greg Kinnear as Don Henderson, the newly acquired
vice-president of fast food mogul "Mickey's". His job requires him to
market a new type of burger "The Big One" to the public. Elsewhere we
get to meet a family of Mexicans, among them Wilmer Valderrama and
Catalina Sandino Moreno, who venture into America illegally via the
nasty, corrupt factory worker Mike (Cannavale), in order to fill his
disgusting work stations. Mickey's employee Amber (Johnson) who grows
tiresome of flipping burgers and pervy bosses eventually decides to
gather a revolt against the beef-slaughtering industry.
On paper this could be the most cinematically violent satire one could hope for on the big screen. The fast food nation, for better or worse, is such an easy subject to tackle as the behemoth of an industry's only true worth is to fatten the western world into a huge wave of immovable mammoths. The operation of it is even worse, as KFC's documented treatment of its fowl is appalling, as is McDonald's lack of nutritional awareness. So much bag to swing at, surely an accomplished director such as Richard Linklater couldn't possibly avoid hitting something? Suffice to say Fast Food Nation is absolutely punch-less. It relays common truths to support its depiction, which completely washed over me. There is artificial flavourings in these foods? Apparently immigrants are put to work illegally and unsafe in factories, you say? No kidding. Tell me something new. Shock me. The devouring and slaughter of a cow isn't a plea to boycott fast food it is vegetarian propaganda. Yes it is nasty viewing, but no more so than the limb-removal in Saw (2004) or the teeth extraction in Park Chan Wook's Oldboy (2003). I knew animals die in the process of food making it is common knowledge. Vegetarian propaganda belongs in a film like Madagascar (2005) or Finding Nemo (2003) where children ponder the humane nature of eating meat, whilst realising that nature itself is fairly ruthless when it comes to hunger. The fact that the biggest indignation proposed unto the industry by this film is of the amount of animal feces going "undetected" in their products is certainly disconcerting, but underlines the weakness to truly devour this subject. It is edited, directed and written in such a pedestrian manner, that not only is there a lack of insight, there is none of the brio or genuine intrigue that Morgan Spurlock's superbly insightful, and utterly entertaining documentary Super Size Me (2004) garnered. Spurlock uncovered a plethora of grotesque truths about fast food that not only made you think about that kind of diet, but also offered a compelling cinematic experience.
It is after witnessing a film as disappointing as Fast Food Nation, that one appreciates a work like Thank You For Smoking (2006) all the more. Linklater has made a movie not just lacking punch, but spark too. Jason Reitman's film about tobacco lobbyists was a movie with similarly hackneyed message: think for yourself. It preached to its own choir much in the same vein is Linklater is doing here; only with verve, and a sense of humour, that more than made it worth the emission. Fast Food Nation is desperately lacking a humorous edge. There is none of that biting satire from Wag The Dog (1997), none of the cutthroat cynicism of Wall Street (1987) or the fluidity in Linklater's previous release this year A Scanner Darkly (2006). It even lacks the intelligence of Syriana (2005), which was not a particularly accomplished film. Instead what we have is an admittedly well-intentioned film, which lacks the wit, insight and storytelling to make this a worthwhile experience.
Fast Food Nation was a great book, and as a piece of nonfiction, it is
still one of the best pieces of long-form journalism of the decade. But
Eric Schlosser and Richard Linklater's fictionalized take on the same
topic isn't deserving of the original book's name.
First, the film tries far too hard to do far too much at once. Is it a cautionary tale about eating beef? Cattle farming? Illegal immigration? Paying workers too little? Crystal meth? Optimism? Any one of these (or even two) would have been enough fodder for a 2-hour film, but tackling them all in one movie is a blunder. A very Big One. No topic is explored enough, and in the process, they all suffer.
Second, the casting is hit-or-miss. Wilmer Valderrama is surprisingly good, as are Greg Kinnear and Ashely Johnson. As expected, Catalina Sandino Moreno runs away with the film, when she's on camera, which is not very much. But Avril Lavigne is laugh-out-loud terrible, as is the comically unscary Luis Guzman.
Third, the grossout factor. There are graphic and bloody scenes of animal death and dismemberment in the movie, but to what end? They're stuck in with no discussion or reflection on them, and because of this, they seem simply gratuitous, not moving or instructive. And really, that's the story of the entire film.
I really like Richard Linklater, the director of Fast Food Nation,
because no matter what pop culture, market research, or his
distributors tell him he continues to make movies where people talk. I
don't mean talk as in "Hasta la vista, baby," or some other
cliché-ridden "isn't that clever" marketing jargon, but TALK, as in
conversations; the kind that were common place before TV, the Internet,
In Fast Food Nation, the film's message is mainly delivered through words. Sure, there's sex, and violence, and even a special effect, but for Linklater's film to be truly affecting it requires the audience to listen. And if they do, they will be rewarded. It's a gamble that I hope will pay off because it's a story that we need to hear. And within his story is an underlying hope--or perhaps just blind faith--that an audience will watch a film about real people dealing with real issues.
There are no true good guys or bad guys in the film. In an interview with my friend, Denis Faye he says, "It's like, hey, everyone's doing their best in this world, you know?"
His characters, like all of us, are all flawed. The good aren't all good, nor the bad all bad, which is something mainstream movie goers, particularly in the USA, seem to have a problem with. Maybe it's because we don't watch movies to watch people in conflict because we get enough of that in our own life.
But to me, at least, this is a great statement of optimism and belief in our society; that we will, when given the choice, choose to listen, think, and make our own decisions. Even in a film that shows life to be pretty bleak, it's a very optimistic view of the world.
Richard Linklater has made a niche for himself with a diverse range of
highly original, intelligent and interesting films that are largely
dialogue driven. Some are idiosyncratic variations of popular genres
like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Waking Life was cutting edge and
in a genre of its own while School of Rock was a mainstream hit in the
teenage comedy genre.
In a sense, Linklater is like Michael Winterbottom. They have very different styles in film-making, but both tackle vastly different projects from one film to the next, creating impressive bodies of work. Any Linklater film is going to be anticipated by fans of his work, and Fast Food Nation does not disappoint.
Based on Eric Schlosser's non-fiction book of the same name, the film is a fictionalisation co-written by Schlosser and Linklater. The structure of the film is unconventional. It is complex, depicting a number of social, economic and human issues with much compassion. Though the characters' paths cross (or come close to it) at different stages, the film is not exactly an ensemble piece. The different stories don't join up in a contrived manner we often see in this genre. Sections are pieced together with a great line up of actors, such as Patricia Arquette, Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke and Kris Kristofferson, each of whose characters are interesting enough to carry the film alone.
The truth behind the burgers we eat is revealed through Mickey's Burgers Marketing Manager Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear) as he attempts to discover the source of faecal contamination of the burgers. Amber (Ashley Johnson) is the conscience of the film. As she discovers the ethics in producing the burgers she smilingly dispenses to the public, we share in her transformation.
Catalina Sandino Moreno was terrific as the Colombian drug mule in Maria Full of Grace and again shines in this film as the desperate and indignant Mexican illegal worker. Paul Dano's role as a Mickey's worker is small but much more interesting than his performance in the mediocre Little Miss Sunshine. Though the story is American, there's relevance to Australia with the proliferation of fast food chains, the new IR laws, and cheap imported labour.
The film is largely character-driven but be warned that there are some gruesome scenes towards the end scenes that should and need to be seen. The film is almost a companion piece to Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. Whereas Super Size Me was an entertaining documentary, it wasn't as hard-hitting as this fictionalised semi-satirical look behind the scenes. Has anyone else noticed that McDonalds is blitzing us with marketing, just as they did in the lead up to Super Size Me? Fast food companies are afraid of this film, and should be. It is well worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this last night at a screening. Watching it was an interesting
process. I went from finding it a little didactic (and comparing the
border crossing scenes with the similar scenes in Ken Loach's "Bread
and Roses") to slowly finding myself overwhelmed by the sheer sadness
of it all.
I think there are some easy jokes and moments early on that seem unnecessary -- a kid spitting in a burger; an executive saying "there's sh*t in the meat" to explain the issue to any dummies who might be in the audience -- but as the film unfolds, all the characters get time to develop and unfold.
And as they do, I found myself feeling terrified for all of them. These are lives that don't make it to the screen often, except perhaps in Ken Loach movies. But what makes this film special is that Linklater is no Ken Loach. He doesn't artificially ramp up the drama of small lives. They have enough drama already.
One of my favorite details in the movie was the sound of Amber's car as she drives off to school. It sounds dangerously close to breaking down, and we know from watching her home life and work schedule what that will mean for her. "Fast Food Nation" is full of details like this.
Overall, the film allows the viewer to invest in all the characters at an unhurried pace. Which is what's truly compelling about it. The political message, while important, isn't what makes this cinema. If anything, it is the weaker aspect of the film. But the human stories are so strong, that it doesn't matter. At least to me. I just found myself very moved by this. Which is what I'm looking for in any film.
It's fascinating (and a bit frightening) that, of the people I've heard
criticizing this film for not being "moving" enough, none seem to
consider the possibility that this could be due to their own cynicism,
jadedness, or other similar accumulations of scar tissue. Which are, of
course, the very attitudes that allow the abuses depicted in the film
to occur in the first place. Some say that Fast Food Nation takes on
too many issues, but really it's about one thing: America. It asks us
to look at how millions of us live and at the by-products of our living
like this. Schlosser and Linklater, by presenting together the issues
of fair wages, health, family, drug abuse, etc., give us the BIG
picture. We can then have a close look, those of us who dare, at the
details, reflect, and get to know our own feelings about it all.
You'd have to be a hardcore-serious skeptic not to revel in the sarcastic wisdom of the old rancher played brilliantly by Kris Kristofferson. Likewise, the family portrayed by Patricia Arquette, Ashley Johnson, and Ethan Hawke feels so genuine and loving, that anyone with a pulse ought to be attracted to the unspoken promise of their humility. All three of those actors give nuanced, subtle-yet-powerful performances. Luis Guzman's bit part is not meant to threaten or scare. It's humor in sleazy, but fairly harmless, smuggler's clothing. Worth mentioning is the palpably real character of "Mike", the meat packing plant supervisor played by Bobby Cannavale. His is yet another fine performance in an important, well-crafted, and thoroughly enjoyable movie.
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