Film Reviews

Fast Food Nation Richard Linklater

Rating - 7/10

Do you like McDonalds? How about Burger King? Wendy's? KFC? Who doesn't? Well hold on there, amigo. Put down the burger. Slowly. Step away from the counter. You have the right to remain silent, run home and watch and/or read Fast Food Nation, a best seller by Eric Schlosser from a few years back and now a feature film from our pal Richard Linklater (Dazed & Confused, School of Rock) available on DVD. I'm not saying you're going to like the film or the book (I actually found the book a little tedious and couldn't make my way through it) but one thing is certain; when you get to the end of either of them you are going to be looking for food alternatives at the supermarket and especially at the fast food counter.

Linklater, faced with the dilemma of filming an extensive non-fiction expose on the fast food industry, chooses to fictionalize the subject and the target, a huge restaurant chain called Mickey's, by fitting together vignettes, each focusing on individuals somehow connected to a new burger called the Big One. Greg Kinnear is Don Anderson, the Mickey's marketing maven who dreamed up the gimmick and tested it on willing guinea pigs (metaphorically speaking). In one funny and disturbing scene, he tests smells for a Caribbean sandwich with a man in a lab coat surrounded by vials of "scents". He is sent to the Mickey's Colorado meat packing vendor to investigate an independent test which has found "faecal matter" in the Big One burgers. Here we meet Amber and Brian (Ashley Johnson and Paul Dano), two high school kids working at the local Mickey's. Amber dreams of better things while Brian dreams of ripping off the safe and graciously spits on your bun. Meanwhile, at the meat packer, we find hordes of illegal immigrants who have crossed the border looking for a better life only to find themselves amidst blood and guts for $10 an hour. Catalino Moreno is one who tries in vain to hold on to her dignity by cleaning rooms in a hotel instead, but is eventually forced back into the plant and onto the killing floor.

The film floats loosely between these characters, leaving Anderson entirely after the first half of the film and climaxes with one of the most disturbing sequences you are likely to see in a major feature film. I'll spare you the gory details because I can't do them justice but suffice to say that we are lead graphically through every stage of the process of making a Big One, from the killing of the animal to the systematic de-skinning and butchering that follows. I winced for at least 5 minutes without stop.

The film is a little too loose to involve us completely in the characters, and Linklater tries hard not to make this into a straight polemic, but let's face it, this is what we have here. Nothing wrong with that. Occasionally we do get some fairly obvious screeds against the Patriot Act which are overtly pedantic, but for the most part the focus is on the people caught up in the machine and the end result served up on our plates wrapped in paper - a shit-filled gut and leftovers burger harnessing the best scientific and marketing minds to make it palatable and desirable to us.

Check out the DVD extras including the "Meatrix" and informative cartoon that suggests alternatives to the way most of us currently eat. This is one meat lover that sat up and took notice.