Fast Food Nation (2006)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Fast Food Nation</strong> (2006)

(On DVD, March 2010) Adapting a book to a movie is a gamble even in the best circumstances, but adapting a well-regarded non-fiction classic into an ensemble drama is really asking for trouble.  To its credit, Richard Linklater manages to touch upon much of Eric Schlosser’s critique of the fast-food industry: We get a taste of its reliance on students and migrant workers, the bloody mass butchery required to keep those burgers flowing, the external costs inherent in cheap food and even details such as made-in-laboratory flavours.  What the film doesn’t do as well is in dramatizing those issues: Often, Fast Food Nation feels like a talky issues show in which every scene mentions a problem or two.  (Even a quick walk through school corridors can’t help but feature metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs.)  Some characters are more interesting than others (there are plenty of cameos and small roles for familiar faces, the best of which being a single-scene semi-villainous turn for Bruce Willis), but the film shuts down before it can tie up most situations adequately: it’s all setup and little payoff, although it leads, Heart of Darkness-style, to a revelatory climax showing the gruesome nature of the “Killing Floor” discussed so often during the rest of the film..  This unflinching moment, filmed in a real Mexico butchery said to be cleaner than US ones, is meant to disgust –but it may not be the film’s intended climax for viewers who already understand that animals become meat become burgers.  Still, Fast Food Nation generally sticks close to reality, and its failings as a piece of narrative fiction are profoundly linked to its strength as a semi-documentary exposé.  It could have been much stronger by including a third act, presenting its messages more carefully (although, thanks goodness, it avoids the most obvious “fast food will make you fat”) and sticking closer to its characters.  But even with its flaws, it’s a worthwhile film: the issues are there to ponder, and there are a handful of scenes good enough to make the film compelling.  Don’t plan on eating much fast-food right after, though.  Appropriately, viewers may come to appreciate the film more after listening to co-writers Linklater and Schlosser on the audio commentary track: they discuss what material was kept from the book, the nature of low-budget moviemaking and some of the themes they were tackling.  A handful of other extras round up the DVD, the most memorable of them being the now-classic Meatrix Flash animation short films.

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