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FAST FOOD NATION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Patricia Arquette, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Dano, Luis Guzman, Ethan Hawke, Ashley Johnson, Greg Kinnear, Kris Kristofferson, Avril Lavigne, Esai Morales, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Lou Taylor Pucci, Ana Claudia Talancon, Wilmer Valderrama, Bruce Willis
Director: Richard Linklater
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: March 6, 2007

“The fecal coliform counts were just off the charts. I’m concerned that this could be a problem for us. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Not exactly.”

“I’m saying there’s sh*t in the meat.”

Film ***

If Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary Super Size Me persuaded you to give up the sinful temptation known as McDonald’s, then Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation just might persuade you to give up fast food completely. This is by far Linklater’s most ambitious film project in quite sometime, as well as his most political film to date, and he has succeeded in making the viewer think twice before ordering your next Big Mac.

The film is actually a partial docudrama, as Linklater wrote the screenplay with Eric Schlosser based on his own non-fiction book of the same name. Schlosser wrote the book out of pure anger after what he saw the fast food industry for what it really was. He’s not exactly saying to people to refuse the temptation of the food they are serving, because even he thinks it’s tasty, but it’s what goes on beyond the fast food sites (in the corporate offices and the meat packaging plants) that makes Schlosser urge his readers, and now viewers, to not fork over one cent to any of the franchises.

And Linklater’s film adaptation paints a broad canvas, with an incredible cast to boot, depicting the multiple angles that tie directly into the fast food origins that have become part of the American culture. We go beyond the friendly service at the cash register and into the corporate offices and even into the territory of illegal immigrants forced to work the most unpleasant angle. It’s a bit scattered, but the film is entirely effective.

The franchise at the focus here is that of Mickey’s, which is the nation’s top fast food chain. We are introduced to a series of characters, beginning with Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear) who is the top marketing expert. Upon hearing reports of fecal matter being found in the burger meat (very scary indeed), he is sent to investigate conduct at a meat packaging plant in Cody, Colorado.

Then we meet Mexican immigrants Raul (Wilmer Valderrama), Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon), who have arrived in Cody to start working at the very same plant. Pretty soon, both they and we are exposed to this awful working environment. In addition to the low wages, the working conditions are extremely hazardous and the plant boss has a sexual appetite for his female employees.

Inside the fast food restraint itself, a server named Amber (Ashley Johnson) is just an average teen trying to earn a wage. But she soon gains a conscience as she befriends a group of eco-friendly teens who are very against the slaughtering of innocent cows as a way of making burgers, thus making her question her job.

The film jumps back and forth between these multiple story angles, only this time around it’s not to intentionally link events in Babel-like fashion but rather to just drive a point home. And the film’s lengthy cast includes a number of surprise appearances. We see Bruce Willis in a crucial scene as a greedy businessman who brokers deals between the meat plant and the Mickey’s franchise, Linklater-frequent Ethan Hawke pops up as Amber’s environmentally conscious Uncle, Kris Kristofferson appears as a rancher. But perhaps the most surprising guest pop up is that of singer Avril Lavigne, showing true promise as an actress, playing one of the young eco-friendly individuals.

All I can say is that if you’re not persuaded to think twice about the food you put into your body by the end of Fast Food Nation, particularly by that of a graphic and disturbing scene near the film’s end, I don’t know what will. Both Linklater and Schlosser have crafted a truly intriguing film with something very serious to say about the true nature of something that’s become part of our culture. They wanted to drive a message home and they succeeded.

Video ****

A terrifically fine job from Fox. The anamorphic picture is consistently clear and sharp, as Lee Daniel’s documentary-like cinematography becomes twice as effective. Colors are amazing and natural and image detail is extremely top notch.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix does add a bit to this dialogue driven film. The different settings do allow for different touches in terms of sound in various set pieces (i.e. the packaging plant and the kitchen in the restraint). It may not sound like much, but the sound mix does offer some nice touches in that regard. Dialogue delivery is superb as well!

Features ***

Featured on this disc is a commentary with Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser, a featurette titled “Manufacturing Fast Food Nation”, a Photo Gallery and four Flash Animation Films; The Meatrix, The Meatrix II: Revolting, The Meatrix II 1/2 and ·The Backwards Hamburger.

Summary:

Fast Food Nation is an appropriately challenging film about something that is really an epidemic in this country. As much as I need to give up fast food anyway, this film may have illustrated another reason why I should…multiple reasons that is!

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