Directed by: Richard Linklater
Premise: The film is a fictionalized adaptation of writer Richard Scholsser’s expose on the fast food industry. The story follows multiple interweaving storylines. A public relations executive (Greg Kinnear) for a major fast food burger franchise investigates allegations of tainted meat from a slaughter house, while a group of Mexicans illegally cross into America to work at the factory and face exploitation from a brutish shift leader (Francisco Rosales), and a young woman (Ashley Johnson) working at one of the restaurants begins to develop a social consciousness.
What Works: Fast Food Nation is an extremely well done ensemble piece. Like Crash, Syriana, and Babel, the film cuts between multiple interrelated storylines but Fast Food Nation is more limited in its number of stories and those stories are more closely related than these other films. As a result, the juxtaposition of these stories is more powerful as the links between them are more focused. Also like these other films, Fast Food Nation is a piece of overt political entertainment; it has a point of view on the subject matter but for the most part the film allows that point to be made through the unfolding drama rather than constantly hitting it over the head. There are some excellent performances in the film, particularly by Johnson as a high school student who is transformed by the power of information, and by Kinnear as a public relations executive who is forced to confront some nasty truths about his business.
What Doesn’t: The story of Kinnear’s character gets shortened in the end and his realization does not come at any cost to him personally or professionally. There is a sense that he has become disillusioned with his job, but there is no real conclusion to his story, it just ends. Also, although most of the film makes its points subtly through inference, the final images of the film, of cattle being executed in the slaughter house, seem tagged on for shock effect.
DVD Pick: Commentary track, featurette, short animation films, and photo gallery.
Bottom Line: Fast Food Nation is an extraordinary film and a very interesting attempt to adapt a nonfiction book to the screen. The film is very successful at what it attempts to do both rhetorically and dramatically.
Episode: #139 (April 29, 2007)