Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fast Food Nation

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 11/26/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the book by Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation is a multi-layered film that explores the world of the fast food industry through the perspectives of different people from fast-food workers, a corporate executive, and a group of Mexican immigrants. Directed by Richard Linklater and written by Linklater and Schlosser, the film takes Schlosser's non-fiction book into a dramatic context to showcase a dark world of the industry that is about profit no matter at the cost. Starring longtime Linklater regular Ethan Hawke along with Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette, Ashley Johnson, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Wilmer Valderrama, Ana Claudia Talancon, Lou Taylor Pucci, Paul Dano, Mitch Baker, Luis Guzman, Bobby Cannavale, Esai Morales, Kris Kristofferson, Avril Lavigne, and Bruce Willis. Fast Food Nation is a harrowing, insightful film that uncovers the dark side of the fast food industry.

The film revolves around three different storylines that plays into the world of the fast food industry as marketing executive named Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) goes to Cody, Colorado to investigate rumors about manure in the meat as he gets a tour of the UMP slaughterhouse and later meets a local rancher in Rudy Martin (Kris Kristofferson) where he and his maid (Raquel Giva) reveal the dark secrets about the UMP slaughterhouse. The other storyline revolves around a group of Mexican immigrants in Raul (Wilmer Valderrama), his girlfriend Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and their friend Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon) who arrive to Cody with the help of Benny (Luis Guzman) as Raul and Coco work at the UMP slaughterhouse where Coco has an affair with its plant manager Mike (Bobby Cannavale). The third story line plays into a fast food employee named Amber (Ashley Johnson) who becomes uncomfortable about working at Mickey's as advice from her uncle Pete (Ethan Hawke) has her trying to rebel against corporations with help of an activist named Paco (Lou Taylor Pucci). Eventually, the three storylines would have some resolutions though they don't really crisscross with one another but would unveil a lot of troubling cynicism that plays into the fast food industry.

What Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser reveal is very complex where it goes to the treatment of immigrants to what goes on behind the food that consumers are eating. While the film isn't perfect, it reveals a lot, even to some graphic detail of how the meat is made from cattle where the objective is to make the audience think while being uncomfortable at the same time. While Linklater takes a documentary-like approach to the film in his observant direction, the approach he and Schlosser takes is in the form of a docu-drama where three different stories are told. While the stories do intertwine with everything, the script is a bit uneven at times though wonderfully structured with the first act being the arrival of the immigrants and Anderson's investigation with the second going further to what Anderson discovers and Sylvia's moral judgement. Then comes the third act that does make things a bit uneasy with Amber joining a revolutionary group and the grim reality Sylvia has to face.

Despite the flaws with the script, Linklater's direction remains strong in how he observes the behaviors while finding a bit of humor in the workplace. While Linklater isn't exactly trying to make audiences think twice about eating fast food but he does raise question of where the food is coming from. More importantly, he reveals more of the corporate cover-ups in which Anderson is forced to think about his job and livelihood to the point that he goes into some moral judgement. The story of the immigrants is handled with realism as well as cynicism about the how untrue the American dream is where Sylvia is the observant character of the film where she tries to do honest work while realizing a lot of the bad things that goes on at the UMP plant. It's by far the most compelling story of the film while the Amber story is a bit weak though Linklater reveals the cynicism that comes afterwards where the film's ending is very bleak.

Helping Linklater in his visual presentation is longtime cinematographer Lee Daniel whose grainy, cinema verite style gives the film a documentary like feel to convey the atmosphere from the polished look of the Californian offices of Mickey to the vast, open spaces and claustrophobic worlds of Cody, Colorado. Longtime editor Sandra Adair does some wonderful cutting on shifting through the segments while making them intertwine with story while giving the pacing a leisurely feel in its 116-minute running time. Production designer Bruce Curtis and art director Joaquin A. Morin did excellent work on the design and look of the Mickey's franchise while costume designer Kari Perkins also does a great job in the look of the Mickey's uniform. Sound editors Michael J. Benavente and Tricia Linklater also do excellent work on creating the atmosphere of the surroundings the characters are in. Friends of Daniel Martinez create a varied mix of music filled with acoustic, Mexican-style music and droning, atmospheric rock to convey the sense of bleakness in the film.

The film's cast is diverse with a lot of actors that include such noted small performances from Mitch Baker, Frank Ertl, Raquel Giva, Armando Hernandez, Hugo Perez, Aaron Himelstein, and Cherami Leigh. Minor roles from the likes of Lou Taylor Pucci, Paul Dano, Esai Morales, and Luis Guzman are excellent. One minor performance that comes across as very annoying is Avril Lavigne as a college protester which is very grating and over-the-top. Another performance that doesn't work is Wilmer Valderrama who whenever he tries to talk, he ends up putting the same kind of Fez that people often sees in his role as Fez in That's 70s Show. Valderrama is not an actor and the casting people should've gotten someone else. Ana Claudia Talancon is excellent as the naive, flirtatious Coco who descends to the world of drugs while Bobby Cannavale is great as the evil, manipulative supervisor. Kris Kristofferson is wonderful as the gruff, cautious rancher who reveals a lot of the dark secrets behind the UMP slaughterhouse while Bruce Willis is great in the one scene he's in as the cynical, corporate supervisor who tells Don Anderson the way the world works.

Patricia Arquette is excellent in her small role as Amber's fun, caring mother who is unaware of what her town is becoming. Ethan Hawke is great in his small role as Amber's radical, political uncle who reveals what happens to local business when they're taken over by corporations. Ashley Johnson is great as Amber who realizes the dark side of the fast food industry and tries to become a revolutionary only to see the grim realities that comes with them. Greg Kinnear gives another fine performance following this year's Little Miss Sunshine as a corporate executive who faces some truths and is forced to go into a moral dilemma that would cost his livelihood while thinking about the customers he's marketing towards. Catalina Sandino Moreno, who is known for her debut performance in Maria Full of Grace, proves that her Oscar nomination was no fluke as she gives the most chilling and moralistic performance of the film. Moreno's proves to be the most heartbreaking in how she tries to do an honest day's work, dealing with the way things are to the people she knows, and how she is forced to face the grim reality that is America. It's really an amazingly powerful performance from the young actress.

While not as entertaining or accessible as Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me or as fulfilling as the other films Richard Linklater did, Fast Food Nation is still a strong, engaging portrait of the American fast food industry. While fans of Linklater will enjoy the dialogue-driven conversations and cinema verite approach, some audiences might be disgusted in some of the graphic imagery as well as some of the things the film is talking about. While it will raise more question about the industry and how it takes care of its customers, it's likely whether or not it will keep people away from fast food or be aware of the changes in the corporate world. Still, Fast Food Nation succeeds in what it aims to do as it's one of the year's most politically-engaging films.

Richard Linklater Films: It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books - Slacker - Dazed & Confused - Before Sunrise - subUrbia - The Newton Boys - Waking Life - Tape - School of Rock - Before Sunset - Bad News Bears (2005 film) - A Scanner Darkly - Me and Orson Welles - Bernie (2011 film) - Before Midnight - Boyhood - Everybody Want Some! - The Auteurs #57: Richard Linklater Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

© thevoid99 2013

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