I didn’t read Fast Food Nation, the non-fiction book by Eric Schlosser, about the seedy underbelly behind the scenes of the fast food industry, but I did go see the film tonight. Directed by Richard Linklater (Bad News Bears, Dazed and Confused), the film creates a fictional narrative following the lives of three groups of people who are somehow related to the industry. We start with Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), the VP of Marketing for Mickey’s Burgers, a fast food chain. He’s created a hit burger called “The Big One”, but it turns out that there is a small amount of fecal matter in the meat, as tested by an independent study group. Obviously, this isn’t a good thing, so Don goes to Cody, Colorado, where the UMP Meat Packing Plant is located, to get to the bottom of the situation. Meanwhile, Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandio Moreno) cross the border into the USA illegally, hoping for a better life. They’re taken to Cody, and given jobs at the UMP plant cutting up meat, by Mike (Bobby Cannavale), a sleazy manager at the plant. We also meet Amber (Ashley Johnson), a teenager who works at the local Mickey’s, and feels trapped in Cody. Her mom (Patricia Arquette) isn’t helping, either.
Over the course of the film, Anderson tries to find out what can be done about the problems at the plant, while the plant is protected by people who don’t really care about the people, and the bottom line is that there’s corruption and incompetence at every level of the food chain (pun intended). From the poorly trained teens (mis)handling food, to the dirty conditions on the killing floor, to the mass marketing in the board room, this film is probably going to make you question what exactly you’re eating when you go to a fast food restaurant. But then, that’s the whole point. The final sequence, which involves showing you the killing floor, is sure to shock many people – but for me, it wasn’t a surprise. I mean, where do you think hamburgers come from? Still, it’s a dose of reality in an otherwise fictional film, based on real situations.
There are a bunch of celebrity cameos in small character roles in the film, which was fun to see. Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke, and Kris Kristofferson among others. Linklater, who co-wrote the screenplay with Schlosser, injects his trademarked lengthy dialogue scenes into the film. I found the misguided liberal college environmental club sequence rather funny, especially when presented with the failed attempt to “Free the Cows”. The music, by a band called “Friends of Dean Martinez”, was pretty good – very indie vibe, and I’m sure it will make a pretty chill listen on the soundtrack.
Fast Food Nation probably isn’t for everyone, but it was a pretty good film, with a solid cast, and a notable message. Whether you agree with it or not, there’s one thing everyone can agree on – burgers sure do taste good!