Fast Food Nation
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Bobby Cannavale, 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
Director: Richard Linklater
SUNY Purchase '05
"I don't compromise my values and I don't compromise my work. I won't give in." -Michael Moore
Fast Food Nation
Review By: Rocco Passafuime
Fast Food Nation
What really started opening the door on the issue of the questionable practices of the American fast food industry was Richard Schlosser's best-selling exposé book Fast Food Nation. When interest arose to adapt the book visually, Schlosser decided to eschew the traditional direction of a documentary.
He teamed up with Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater and created with the filmmaker a character ensemble drama loosely based around the concepts of the book. The result of this is the film Fast Food Nation, which is now available on DVD.
The multiple stories revolve around the shady goings on of a popular fast-food chain named Mickeys. Also involved is a giant meat packing factory UniGlobe, based in the Colorado suburb town of Cody, which provides them with their beef patties.
Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), who is the vice president of Mickeys marketing division, is sent over to Cody to investigate after claims surface that the beef patties UniGlobe sell contain a high quantity of cow manure in them. While UniGlobe's tour attempts to assure him that the facilities are clean, Don soon discovers that the company hires unskilled, undocumented workers migrating from Mexico, who are constantly pressured to keep production mobile.
A few of these workers include Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), her boyfriend Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and her sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon), recent undocumented migrants that have smuggled themselves across the border for better opportunities in the States. Sylvia quickly leaves the facility for a lesser-paying job as a hotel maid. However, Coco soon becomes sexually exploited by the factory's lecherous boss Mike (Bobby Cannavale) and Raul often braves unsafe working environments, which soon compels him to self-medicate on the job.
Meanwhile, on the other side of all this, Amber (Ashley Johnson) is a teenager working the counters of a Cody-based Mickeys restaurant. She's consumed in the job until a group of environmental activists she befriends reveal the darker side of fast food. They compel Amber to quit and she soon joins in an eco-crusade attempt against the chain.
Turning a powerfully compelling and indicting book on the fast food industry into a dramatic film is undoubtedly an interesting and unique approach. However, Fast Food Nation: The Dramatic Film doesn't entirely succeed on getting its powerful message out.
While the film has a large cast of highly talented actors, who occasionally produce some great scenes, many of the film's different plots lack the weight to make them compelling as much of the script's dialogue has characters referencing general facts. By and large, the only story in the film that really is powerful enough to resonate is the story of Raul, Sylvia, and Coco.
Their story shows a harrowing and rare insight on film into the struggles of illegal Mexican immigrants and how they endure being used as cheap labor just to make ends meet.
The DVD is presented in a 1:78:1 widescreen aspect ratio with the sound quality in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1. The DVD is also packed with plenty of special features.
The first is audio commentary with director Richard Linklater and original book author and co-writer Eric Schlosser. They engage very well with each other through the commentary and provide a very compelling mix of information and anecdotal humor.
Also included is a behind-the-scenes featurette titled Manufacturing Fast Food Nation, which is often compelling and has great interviews with the cast and crew, but is often bogged down by long and extraneous sequences of scenes being filmed. There's also a photo gallery, which is enormous and a bit extraneous, but often has nice glossy black-and-white shots of cast members and other objects and places shown throughout the film.
Rounding off the special features are several highly amusing and informative Flash animation shorts revolving around the fast food industry's ills. The Meatrix and its sequels The Meatrix II: Revolting and The Meatrix II 1/2 are parodies of the sci-fi classic The Matrix that revolve around a Neo-like pig rising up from his predestined state as processed meat and battling against the repressive forces of The Meatrix. The Backwards Hamburger is an amusing animated short about a guy who rescinds his decision to buy fast food, while in the process, facts are revealed about the industry.
All in all, Fast Food Nation is an often interesting experiment on what could come out by turning a highly-powerful reference book into a dramatic film. While its an interesting watch for those who have read the book, the uninitiated are better off first actually reading the book or watching the more simpler and amusing documentary Super Size Me the book inspired.
Movie Grade: C
Special Features Grade: B
Overall Grade: B-