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Friday, February 16, 2007

FAST FOOD NATION (2006) - Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater is one of those rare directors who can produce indie films (Dazed And Confused, Before Sunrise) as well as main stream hits (School Of Rock). In the last year, he produced one of the most visually stunning films of recent times in A Scanner Darkly, and a movie that examines the health risks we are exposed to at the hands of fast food restaurants. Fast Food Nation is an adaptation of Eric Schlosser's fact-based book of the same name. Rather than presenting us with a heavy-handed documentary preaching how fast food is bad for us and the evil multinationals that sell us this crap is an exploiter of immigrant workers, Linklater has transported the message of Schlosser's book into a character-driven narrative of the lives behind the facts. The film does have a documentary tone to it. Actors such as Bruce Willis and Ethan Hawke pop up to give us information-filled speeches teaching us how the meat served in the popular fast food chains is produced at such high speed that quantity takes it's toll on quality.
Meanwhile, the plight of Mexican immigrants is presented in the story of Raul and Sylvia (Wilmer Valderrama and Catalina Sandino Moreno respectively), two boarder hoppers who land jobs in the factory that produces the hamburgers. Here we see the low quality of life that these people experience as they work horrible jobs with no safety concerns for little money.

The film's objective here is simple. To get us to think more about the food we eat, and where it comes from. The melodrama is laid on thick and fast, but along the way, the narrative becomes a little too choppy. A few of the story threads are left unresolved, and while the message is clear, the way this message is presented is somewhat sloppy. While Fast Food Nation, the book, is a bestseller and critically acclaimed, you are left with the impression that the film adaptation has been somewhat dumbed-down for the teenage audience it is trying to reach. The performances from Greg Kinnear as a high ranking marketing executive of Mickey's, the fictional fast food chain in the film and Ashley Johnson, a student working at a Mickey's restaurant are perfectly fine, but they don't have a great deal to work with. Ultimately, you're left feeling educated by not necessarily entertained.

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