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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 21.21%
Just Average45.45%
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Sucks: 12.12%

4 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Fast Food Nation
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"No Great Shake"
3 stars

When Eric Schlosser published “Fast Food Nation,” his muckraking examination of the fast food industry, in 2001, it struck the kind of rabble-rousing chord with the public that hadn’t been seen since Rachel Carson’s exposes of chemical companies in the 1960's and Ralph Nader’s various consumer crusades. In his book, he cleanly and clearly laid out all the social, economic, political and physiological harm done by the fast food industry in the name of ever-increasing profits and graphically confirmed everyone’s unspoken fears that their offerings are nutritionally questionable at best, their business practices equally harmful and that their off-shoot industries–primarily the slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants–place their workers, usually the sort of people who are willing to do any job, no matter how dangerous or arduous, in order to make a few bucks, in constant jeopardy simply because it is a more economic way of doing business. Even if they didn’t change their eating habits as a result, it is impossible for anyone who read the book to order up at any junk-food palace without flashing back to one story or another.

You would think then that a film adaptation of the book that could transfer Schlosser’s meticulously researched facts to the screen would be a slam-dunk and have an even greater impact on audiences. And yet, despite a screenplay co-written by Schlosser and a director of the caliber of Richard Linklater, who has quietly developed into one of the best American filmmakers at work today, the film version of “Fast Food Nation” is a frustrating affair. It is well-made and has been produced with obvious sincerity but on some fundamental level, it just doesn’t click in the way that it should.

The original book was essentially a long-form piece of journalism without any type of narrative through-line and so Linklater and Schlosser decided that instead of following that approach and turning the film into a documentary, they would create a fictional storyline upon which they could hang various facts and anecdotes from Schlosser’s research. Utilizing a narrative style similar to that of last year’s “Syriana,” the film immerses viewers in a trio of loosely connected storylines that all take place within the same Colorado town and touch upon various levels of the industry and how it directly and indirectly impacts the lives of those who come in contact with it. On the low end of the spectrum are a trio of Mexicans–Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), her boyfriend Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and her sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon)–who have illegally slipped into the country in pursuit of the American Dream and find themselves looking for work at the meat-packing plant that is the town’s economic center because it is the primary burger producer for the nationwide Mickey’s chain. Sylvia can’t take it there for more than a day and finds lower-paying work as a motel maid. Coco tries to make it easier for herself by sleeping with her supervisor (Bobby Canavale) in exchange for an easier job while Raul gets a job on the cleaning crew, a position so dangerous that even the tiniest slip can result in death or dismemberment–both try to ease the misery of the factory conditions by turning to crank but it inevitably makes things worse.

At the high end of the fast food chain is Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), a top marketing executive for Mickey’s who has been sent to town to investigate the discovery of certain unsavory elements in the meat. He is given a tour of the plant and everything looks fine but when he chooses to look a little deeper, he talks to a local rancher (Kris Kristofferson) who lets him know that the meat isn’t the only thing at the plant that is on the dirty side. Shocked, Don meets up with the company’s local rep (Bruce Willis) to ask what is going on up there and receives the kind of cold, hard facts that aren’t a part of any traditional business school curriculum. Of course, Don could put an end to it by making this information public but that depends on what he values more–the truth and the health of the public or his high paying job. Many of you will probably not be surprised by the outcome of that decision.

Somewhere in the middle is Amber (Ashley Johnson), a high-school girl who works the counter at Mickey’s in order to help bring some extra money into the home she shares with her mother (Patricia Arquette). Although a model employee–when she follows the company directive to ask if you want anything else to go with what you just ordered, she makes it sound like the most sincere question in the world–she finds herself beginning to grow disenchanted with everything that the restaurant represents. Inspired by her idealistic uncle (Ethan Hawke), Amber hooks up with some budding young radicals at the local college (led by Avril Lavigne) who have a particular loathing for Mickey’s and all that it represents. Instead of merely sending another letter or calling for another boycott, they decide to take a more direct form of action by cutting a hole in the fence of one of the grossly overpopulated grazing areas in order to set the future burgers of the world free with unexpected results.

As you can see, “Fast Food Nation” has all the ingredients for a rabble-rousing polemic but as the film goes on and on, Linklater never quite finds the right proportions. While the various storylines and subplots in “Syriana” managed to explore different areas of the oil industry and imparted mountains of information while still managing to maintain a headlong forward momentum, the narrative threads here never really tie together in any meaningful way and when one story does begin to chug along on its own, we are abruptly uprooted from it and sent somewhere else instead. This is especially strange coming from someone like Linklater, who has in the past demonstrated a deftness for juggling multiple storylines in films such as “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused” and “Waking Life.” Here, he never quite finds the right rhythm for the film and the strain shows all the way through, culminating in two of the weakest scenes that he has ever staged. The first is the attempt by the college kids to set the cows free that is so heavy-handed in its irony that he almost seems to be nudging you in the ribs to make sure you got the point. The second comes during the controversial finale in which, through the eyes of a new worker at the meat-packing plant, we see in graphic and gory detail how a live cow is reduced to hamburger patties in what may be an homage to the infamous French short film “Blood of the Beasts,” which offered a deadpan glimpse of slaughterhouse workers plying their trade as if they were pushing papers in a dull office. The sequence itself is bloody and disturbing and will no doubt send viewers off into the night not discussing where they are going to be having dinner but Linklater spoils it by giving the new worker a close-up in which she sheds a symbolic tear to remind us how sad it all is. By doing that, he adds a melodramatic element that is simply not necessary (if you haven’t been suitably stricken by this point, a tear is probably not going to tip the scale) and takes away from the real horror of the scene, which is how the other workers have managed to process it all in a way that allows them to go about their daily routine without even noticing the carnage around them.

Also, most of the shocking revelations that are uncovered in the film–migrant workers are being exploited with little regard to their personal safety, high-school kids in dead-end towns get stuck in the service industry because there is nothing else for them to do, big businessmen will cheerfully serve up a product they know to be unhealthy because to clean things up might means a slightly lower profit share–will probably come as no surprise to anyone sitting in the audience. For a film like this to succeed, it helps if you feel as if you have come out of it having learned something but “Fast Food Nation” feels like a 100-level class when it should come across like a graduate seminar. This is especially frustrating because there are numerous aspects surrounding the subject of fast food that Schlosser uncovered (such as the marketing of non-nutritious junk food to children, the dangers high-schoolers face by working in restaurants with lots of ready cash and little security to dissuade robbers and the details of how the various foods consistently achieve their distinctive flavors) that are either alluded to and then abandoned or never mentioned at all. Of course, to include all the material from the book would be impossible to do in a film that is already pushing two hours as is–maybe it would have been more successful as a multi-part cable mini-series that could have focused on a different aspect each week along the lines of “From The Earth To The Moon.” Ironically, given the subject matter, this is a film that could have benefitted from super-sizing.

“Fast Food Nation” is not a complete washout by any means. The performances from Moreno, Johnson and Kinnear are all quite strong and Bruce Willis’s single scene is one of the most riveting things that he has done in a while. (Although as big of a movie star as anyone out there, Willis has always made his greatest impact in films doing these smaller supporting turns.) As with all of his films, Linklater has a knack for capturing the look and feel of his characters and the world they inhabit–both the beauty of the remaining patches of open land and the garishness of the strip malls and take-out joints that are quickly encroaching upon it. I also like the gamble that he takes with the Kinnear character when he has essentially served all of his narrative purpose about halfway through the film–instead of keeping him around for the sake of appearances, he just lets him fade out of the storyline. And yet, because of my fondness for both Schlosser’s original book and Linklater’s career, I came away from “Fast Food Nation” feeling vaguely unsatisfied. On the surface, it may look appetizing on the surface but once you actually sink your teeth into, you’ll discover that it is as bland and insubstantial as the food that it decries.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15276&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/17/06 01:01:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2007 Florida Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/22/12 roscoe this straight up sucks ass. 1 stars
1/23/11 Jeff Wilder Makes good points. But doesn't have the emotional impact it should. 3 stars
4/21/09 brian Thank you Mister Obvious. 3 stars
1/08/09 Anonymous. disturbing. 3 stars
5/08/08 Karrie Millheim ok, i hated it, duh fastfood is bad for you 1 stars
10/10/07 Charles Tatum Jeez, Linklater, how do your really feel about EVERYTHING? 1 stars
5/31/07 Derrick One of the worst movies I have ever seen. 1 stars
5/03/07 M Craven Could have hit harder or left out Avril's "acting" but still worth watching 4 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Detached docudrama and sloppy sermon. All purpose and no impact once Kinnear leaves. 2 stars
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  17-Nov-2006 (R)
  DVD: 06-Mar-2007



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