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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film reviews New Dvds - MICHAEL DWYER

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

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