Richard Linklater Cuts Up the Fast Food Industrial Complex

Maui Time | November 12, 2006

Richard Linklater Cuts Up the Fast Food Industrial Complex

Fast Food Nation (Four Stars)

By Cole Smithey (654 words)

Former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren produced this film version of Eric Schlosser’s best-selling 2001 nonfiction expose “Fast Food Nation,” about the disgusting, illegal, and dangerous aspects of America’s fast food industrial complex. Director Richard Linklater adds biting social satire while striking a comic tone to insure that Schlosser’s social medicine goes down gently until the film’s disturbing reality-based anti-climax is revealed. Greg Kinnear gives a top-drawer performance as Don Henderson, the marketing veep for “Mickey’s,” a successful fast food burger chain, who gets an assignment to covertly investigate why cow manure has been turning up in his company’s burgers. Henderson’s road-trip-inquiry intersects with the brutal working conditions of illegal alien workers in a dangerous meat processing plant, rebellious teen employees at a burger franchise, and cattle supplier Harry (Bruce Willis) who tells Don, “We all have to eat a little &%#@ from time to time.”

Where this year’s mushy tobacco satire “Thank You For Smoking” failed due to its filmmakers’ refusal to take enough of a stand, “Fast Food Nation” has no such pretense. Animals, people, dreams, and crap are all ground into little brown burgers for Americans to purchase at a cash discount. We’re not led to believe that there is any mask of propriety, charisma or kindness behind the process of making rich the corporate heads that mine our land and bodies for huge profits. Richard Linklater balances Schlosser’s study of corporate greed with palpable layers of human limitation and regional circumstance that inform the choices and decisions of his representative characters.

Don Henderson isn’t an exceptionally smart or shrewd corporate rook; he just has enough sincere curiosity and common sense to bear witness to the machinations around him. Henderson travels to Cody, Colorado where illegal immigrants staff his company’s busy meat slaughterhouse and packing plant. Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno – “Maria Full of Grace”), her promiscuous sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon) and Sylvia’s earnest boyfriend Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) have recently been spirited into Cody by the local coyote Benny (Luis Guzman) to work at the plant. The immigrant subplot is the flashpoint of the story, and Linklater makes ingenious use of an actual modern-day slaughterhouse, with its ostensibly sterile areas, to dramatize the severe health risks and cruel working conditions of the environment.

The town plays a significant character in Linklater’s John Sayles brand of socially interconnected ensemble narrative. Cody’s main strip is a model of small town America where fast food chain restaurants beckon the populace with a promise of cheap food and employment opportunities. Distressed Mickey’s counter clerk Amber (Ashley Johnson) represents a generation Z character that has been duped by her surroundings into devaluing her personal potential. Amber’s professorial Uncle Pete (Ethan Hawke) pays a visit to Amber to impart some perspective and wisdom to his distracted niece. Linklater’s casting of Ethan Hawke calls undue attention to the superfluous scene wherein Hawke recites theme lines as if he’s passing along a Holy Grail of insight about the dangers of pregnancy and minimum wage jobs. The film grinds to a standstill.

The movie tips its hat to young audiences when Amber teams up with Paco (Lou Taylor Pucci), a political activist who stirs his friends to attempt an act of eco-terrorism by freeing a herd of cows awaiting slaughter. The doomed plan backfires and points toward the necessity of bigger and brighter ideas from America’s flaming youth to take on corporate systems that enslave enormous segments of the populace.

Films don’t change societies, and to believe that “Fast Food Nation” will turn people away from fast food, any more than Morgan Spurlock’s successful documentary “Super Size Me” did, is pure folly. You won’t learn much here that you don’t already know. But you will get the pleasure of knowing that you aren’t alone in your knowledge.

Rated R, 114 mins. (B)

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Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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