Fast food indignation
FAST FOOD NATION Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Patricia Arquette, Paul Dano, Luis Guzman, Ethan Hawke, Ashley Johnson, Greg Kinnear, Kris Kristofferson, Avril Lavigne, Esai Morales, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Wilmer Walderama, Bruce Willis 15A cer
WHEN the McDonald’s in my southside Dublin village closed down a few months ago, I didn’t care because I never bought anything there. But it struck me as significant that burger joints are now outnumbered by Thai food outlets in the neighbourhood. While this is unlikely to mark the beginning of the end of an era for the purveyors of quarterpounders, they may well lose more customers after today’s release of Fast Food Nation.
This provocative movie tackles a similar theme to Morgan Spulock’s Super SizeMe documentary but, in its all-out attack on the US fast food industry, its range is much broader. Fast Food Nation is loosely based on Eric Schlosser’s nonfiction bestseller of the same name, which has been reshaped as a narrative feature, weaving its data through overlapping stories.
The movie’s versatile director, Richard Linklater, collaborated with Schlosser on the script, which deals with people at different levels on the fast food chain. Greg Kinnear plays a conscience-free marketing executive at the fictional franchise, Mickey’s Burgers. When Mickey’s receives reports of bovine excrement in its products, he is sent to Cody, Colorado, “an all-American town”, according to a welcoming billboard, and the headquarters of the largest meatpacking plant in the US.
Meanwhile, a group of illegal Mexican immigrants (among them a young couple played by Catalina Sandino Moreno and Wilmer Valderamma) make their way over the border on foot and earn every cent they make working at the plant. A third strand focuses on a bright high school student (Ashley Johnson) who works nights at a Mickey’s outlet.
The film is overtly didactic as it extends its agenda to address the use of chemicals in the food process, the exploitation of immigrants, sexual harassment in the workplace, the idealism of student eco-activists, and the increasingly bland anonymity of the archetypal American town. Kris Kristofferson even turns up as a rancher bemoaning the rapid spread of residential homes across formerly green expanses.
While Linklater bites off rather more than he can chew, he nimbly meshes the diverse strands together in a whole that develops organically and coherently.
This is an energetic and often darkly humorous movie marked by an evident sincerity and concern. And it pulls no punches in depicting the production of fast food as disgusting and dangerous. Cinema has never produced such a convincing argument for vegetarianism.
The night shift: Paul Dano kills time in Fast Food Nation