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Not as nauseating as a Big Mac
Joseph Belanger19 November 2006
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.
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Narrative film on the fast food culture in the United States
swkidder17 October 2006
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 ...
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A healthy dose of much needed reality
sviau8125 September 2006
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?)
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There's sh*t in the meat.
lastliberal2 October 2007
It doesn't matter that there was a boatload of stars in this film; it is the story that counts.

When i saw the dude spit on the hamburger, I know I was in for trouble.

It is sad to see how the exec sold out and just went along to protect his livelihood when he knew there was something wrong going on.

I lived nine years next to these CAFOs - Controlled Animal Feed Operations. The flies were so bad that you could not go out at night. This was in town! When those West Texas winds whipped across the prairies in the Summer, you knew that wasn't dirt getting in your mouth. 50 pounds of p*ss and sh*t a day from each cow. Where i lived, we fed one million cows a year - 25% of the beef sold in the country. That's a lot of sh*t! The conditions in the meat packing plants were true. We had them and they did have constant accidents due to pushing the lines. It is a shame that we have people risking their lives to get these kinds of jobs because it makes their lives so much better.

Bruce Willis says to just cook it and you'll be all right. I am not so sure anymore.
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An Optimistic In A Bleak World
Steve Edwards15 November 2006
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, and X-Boxes.

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.
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The point of the film is that these issues ARE intertwined.
distraido16 November 2006
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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Mournful but true and compelling
David Franklin3 November 2006
Warning: 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.
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This is how a Happy Meal gets made.
s-lott28 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Although I am no great fan of Linklater - Before Sunset bored me, and as I result I have never sought out his other work - the shorts and the buzz about this film convinced me that it was worth a look. I was expecting a wry, but probably informative look at the fast-food industry. What was on screen was something quite different indeed. A largely excellent cast filled a sprawling set of interconnected stories revolving around a meat factory in small-town Colorado. The main threads are pretty bleak ones - illegal Mexican immigrants see their American dreams dissolve into terrible jobs, poor housing and drug addiction; a marketing manager for an American fast-food corporation realises that his company is knowingly selling contaminated food, but resigns himself to going along with the deception in order to keep his job. The stand-out moments for me were two set-piece dialogues between Kinnear's manager and Kristofferson's rancher and Willis' meat buyer. The former's comments about the 'machine running America' pretty much summarise the tone of the movie, and Willis' diatribe against the incessant need for guaranteed safety was a series of perfectly sensible home truths used by his character to defend the indefensible. As well as predictably portraying the fast-food/mechanised farming industry as a ruthless monster, the film also effectively satirises the 'eco-warrior' responses to it, first with a well observed college student debate on how to fight the industry ("They are the meanest company in the country, and you're going to write a letter?!") and then with an abortive attempt to free cattle waiting for slaughter, which refuse to embrace the 'liberation' available to them.

The film does have its weaknesses. The sexually predatory meat factory supervisor was a one-dimensional and unconvincing character, and for a company so demonised, the health care provisions to its illegal immigrant workers seemed pretty decent, and the horrors of the 'kill floor' as finally visualised seemed nowhere near as bad as their descriptions. The final weakness is the general sense of defeat in the face of the corporate machine. There is a simple route that each of us can take to undo even the largest, meanest corporation: stop buying their product.

Overall, a thoughtful and thought-provoking film. Linklater's elliptical style might not be for everyone, but the reflections on the human cost of big business should be.
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Another Linklater gem
Paul Martin23 October 2006
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.
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Fast Food Nation challenges us to question our lives
alan-wright-23 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Early in the movie, we learn that there is fecal matter in the burgers. The poop in the burgers symbolizes the ethical compromises that the current economic system requires of anyone hoping to succeed. As Harry (Bruce Willis) observes, "Everyone must eat a little sh*t in life." In other words, find ways to adjust your values, and you will get along OK.

The three rebel characters – Rudy (Kris Kristofferson), the radical student Paco (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Amber's uncle – each challenge Harry's assertion by choosing to live their lives outside the system. None of them drives a shiny new car (like the Chevy truck -- Raul's symbol of success), nor are they likely ever to have prestigious high paying jobs. Yet, they hold onto their integrity by resisting, by refusing to "eat sh*t".

The movie follows the development of three main characters – Mickie's VP for marketing Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), Amber (Ashley Johnson), and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno). We meet each of these characters as they struggle to make it within the system. They find themselves each situated on different rungs of the systemic ladder of "success" and the movie tracks their efforts to move up to the next rung. Don is already a "success". He has a wife, two sons, and a comfortable, well paid white collar position of a major US corporation. Yet he discovers that staying on the ladder of success is not as easy or straightforward as one might imagine. He has only slightly more job security than the Mexicans. If he wants to continue on the ladder, he will need to "eat sh*t" just like everyone else. The alternative – ratting out the corruption in the system – spells almost certain economic disaster for him and his family.

The Mexican main character is, in fact a family. The Mexicans – Sylvia, her younger sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancón), and Sylvia's partner Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) arrive in Texas full of hope. Unfortunately for them, their dreams of a better life were made more of marketing than of reality. They imagined that they were among the lucky ones who succeeded in sneaking across the border to a better life. They gradually realize that they have been lured into a deadly trap, kidnapped really. The trap is destined to extract from them their life force. These three characters are tempted by the promise of quick and easy money ($80 in one day!). Over time however, they are seduced, drugged, screwed, and broken – physically as well as spiritually. The corporation "cares deeply for the family" as long as it serves the corporate mission to maximize profits. As soon as any one of them becomes a liability, that person is spit out to fend for themselves or to die. Sylvia is the first to realize that something is wrong. She chooses to defend herself by seeking a lower paying but less humiliating form of employment. Cleaning hotel rooms, she is able to remain in relationship with another human being, maintain her sense of humor, and with it her humanity. Little sister Coco gets seduced by false promises and is used up, addicted to car payments as much as to crack. Raul risks his life to save his friend and gets his reward -- broken ribs, a false drug charge, and a pink slip (unemployment).

At the end of the movie Sylvia and Don are in identical situations. They realize to their horror, that their souls have been kidnapped, that they are slaves to a mindless system of profit making which doesn't care about them in the least. They are devastated by the thought that they may have to "eat sh*t" for the rest of their lives and there seems nothing they can do about it.

Amber, the high school student, dreams of becoming an astronaut. She is the only main characters who defies conventional wisdom, turning her back on the system. She looks at her mother's pathetic conformist life, listens to her rebel uncle, and decides to embrace an uncertain economic future by quitting her job over the prospect of a lifetime of unreality. Amber is an "everyman" character, an average student at an average high school, working at one of the nation's millions of minimum wage "entry level" positions. She is a cog in the corporate machinery, starting her life at the bottom, but with "great potential" according to her boss (Esai Morales). Gradually, it dawns on Amber that something is not right. She doesn't yet know what is wrong, but she decides to join a group of like minded young people who begin by just saying "No!" They choose the path of integrity, listening to their inner voice. While their initial attempt at direct action – freeing the slave cattle – appears ludicrous, they are, at least, doing something. They learn from their efforts, and refuse to give up. Meanwhile, Amber is reminded of the ludicrous behavior of Nelson Mandela, founder of the African National Congress, who spent more than 20 years of his life in prison rather than to bend to apartheid. In the end, the power of his example broke the back of apartheid and made Mandela president of South Africa. Rather than "hope for change" Mandela refused to eat the "sh*t" that South Africa required of every black person. Amber, like Mandela, doesn't know where her protests will lead, but she opts for idealism over compromise, preferring rebellion over obedience.

In the end it is the single-minded pursuit of corporate profits which requires that the line move ever faster. The speed of the line inevitably leads to mistakes (unwanted substances in the ground beef, injuries, inhumane relationships). Perpetual growth in the corporate bottom line requires that every day, some new compromise be made, some value sacrificed, some life lost. This important film challenges viewers to ask themselves if they are swallowing humiliation for the sake of false security.
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