Show her how to pull kidneys

Pretty much all the publicity for Richard Linklater’s ‘Fast Food Nation’ centers around the same quotation from the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who calls it the most important political film by an American director since ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’. Other critics haven’t been so hyperbolic, with the film nestling at just under 50% on RT. It’s based on Eric Schlosser’s best-seller, which took a non-fiction look at the industry and its often sickening practices. The source material is fascinating stuff, but it doesn’t adapt too well to a narrative form.

The film is rich with characters, but the many strands don’t tie together in the story, and that makes it feel disjointed. That was my main disappointment with it – the elements didn’t all fit well together, and it felt clumsy in places. The themes make it much more interesting – all the strands involve frustrated purpose, the idea of individuality and all those good things being kept down by The Rules/The Man. Greg Kinnear’s marketing exec has to miss his son’s science fair because he has to investigate why his company’s burgers have fecal matter in them. Ashley Johnson has high aspirations for life after high school, but is stuck working at the local burger bar. Catalina Moreno and Wilmer (Cash Moneyyy) Valderrama jump the border to make some money, but all they will ever get is under-the-table work at the local meat packing plant. The performances are universally terrific – Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) is really good as a bored burger flipper, whilst Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Willis each kill in their single scenes. Only Ethan Hawke, a permanent fixture with Linklater, doesn’t bring much to the party, and his character is kind of unnecessary.

The dialogue plays out well, as you’d expect from the ‘Before Sunrise’ guy, and the imagery is really powerful. Some of the book’s most memorable moments –testing chemical swabs which recreate the smells of the top selling burgers, a gnarly slaughterhouse accident, lots of harrowing ‘kill floor’ footage – translate powerfully onto the screen. The film is ambitious, thought-provoking, at points crushingly sad (the last ten minutes or so), but the storytelling that binds it is weak, and this leaves it ultimately flawed. Still, it’s enough to make you switch to an [organic] apple and peanuts diet.


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