If it’s true that we are what we eat, then how, this film asks, do we even know who we are? The writer William S. Burroughs once contemplated “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork,” and “Fast Food Nation” aims to produce a similar moment — to shock, to demystify and to force a kind of horrified, questioning clarity.
In what has become the preferred cinematic method for addressing complex social issues — see also “Crash,”“Traffic” and “Babel,” among others — Mr. Linklater’s film tells multiple stories, which radiate like spokes from the hub of a central theme. Don Anderson pokes around in fictional Cody, Colo., trying to balance his search for the truth with an apparent desire not to do anything that might hurt his career.
Meanwhile, a group of Mexican immigrants, having crossed the border illegally, arrives in Cody (Don unknowingly drives by the van transporting them) and takes up dangerous, stomach-turning jobs at the meat-processing plant. And a teenage burger-slinger (who works at one of Don’s franchises after school) undergoes a crisis of conscience when she falls in with a group of anticorporate activists from a nearby college.
Mr. Linklater is a nimble and versatile director, but what he does best — what he seems to like most — is to film people in conversation. His most characteristic movies — “Slacker,”“Before Sunset,”“Waking Life” — consist largely of unfettered, idiosyncratic talk, and “Fast Food Nation” is thick with debate, argument, rumination and repartee. Curiously enough, the talkiness is what saves the movie from turning into a lecture. Its loose, digressive rhythm keeps it tethered to reality, while the dialogue and the easy pace of the scenes allow the characters to register as individuals, not just as types.
It helps that the performances are generally strong. Mr. Kinnear is, yet again, the All-American dad and solid citizen, at once a paragon and a parody, thoroughly decent and just a bit sleazy. Ashley Johnson is completely convincing as Amber, the striving high school student whose idealism is the flip side of her ambition. The only thing Amber wants more than to change the world is to get out of Cody, and one of the film’s quiet insights is that these two desires — to fight the system and to win by its rules — are not necessarily incompatible, though they may seem contradictory.
In other words, when Amber and her newfound comrades sit around the dorm debating strategy and raging against the machine, they are attacking one version of the American dream while embodying another. A more basic instance of that dream motivates Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a young married couple who have crossed the American-Mexican border on foot. While both actors are natural magnets for the sympathy of the audience, Mr. Linklater and Mr. Schlosser resist the impulse to turn them into caricatures of the noble, suffering poor. They are too interesting to be pitiable, just as Bobby Cannavale, as the predatory supervisor at the meat-packing plant, is more than just the sum of his ruthless, despicable actions.
The cast is large — there’s Ethan Hawke! And Kris Kristofferson! — but the crowdedness of “Fast Food Nation” is evidence of its liveliness. (Paul Dano, as one of Amber’s coworkers, and Ana Claudia Talancón, as Sylvia’s wayward sister, deserve special mention.) Everyone in it has something to say, and the central characters face some hard ethical choices set down by the logic of 21st-century consumer capitalism.
The movie does not neglect the mute, helpless suffering of the cows, but it also acknowledges the status anxiety of the managerial class, the aspirations of the working poor (legal and otherwise) and the frustrations of the dreaming young. It’s a mirror and a portrait, and a movie as necessary and nourishing as your next meal.
“Fast Food Nation” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has scenes of sex, violence, drug use and animal slaughter.
FAST FOOD NATION
Opens today nationwide.
Directed by Richard Linklater; written by Eric Schlosser and Mr. Linklater, based on the book by Mr. Schlosser; director of photography, Lee Daniel; edited by Sandra Adair; music by Friends of Dean Martinez; production designer, Bruce Curtis; produced by Jeremy Thomas and Malcolm McLaren; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 106 minutes.
WITH: Patricia Arquette (Cindy), Bobby Cannavale (Mike), Paul Dano (Brian), Luis Guzman (Benny), Ethan Hawke (Pete), Ashley Johnson (Amber), Greg Kinnear (Don Anderson), Kris Kristofferson (Rudy Martin), Avril Lavigne (Alice), Esai Morales (Tony), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Sylvia), Lou Taylor Pucci (Paco), Ana Claudia Talancón (Coco) and Wilmer Valderrama (Raul).
Fast Food Nation
NYT Critic’s Pick
WritersEric Schlosser, Richard Linklater
StarsGreg Kinnear, Bruce Willis, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Running Time1h 56m
GenresComedy, Drama, Romance
- Movie data powered by IMDb.com
Last updated: Nov 2, 2017
Eric Schlosser is the author who has written about the fast food industry and he presents many of his findings in the book 'Fast Food Nation'. However, his book is not only an expose of the fast food industry but is even more a consideration of how the fast food industry has shaped and defined American society in America and for other nations as America exports its fast food culture to others. Schlosser describes a great deal of American culture to the fast food mentality, and he finds that globalization is taking the fast food culture around the world at a rapid rate. Schlosser addresses a number of specific issues related to food production and distribution. He connects the social order of a society to the kind of food it eats and the way it eats that food, with American society very much defined by the fast food culture that has developed. Schlosser tends to represent the theory stressing the importance of interdependence among all behavior patterns and institutions within a social system, as can be seen from how he connects fast food to other social processes and institutions. The title is not so complex or sophisticated. The title ‘Fast Food Nation’: the dark side to the all American meal tries to make the book sound black and gloomy but with the contradiction of the bright graphic cover. The title shows the reader that we may be presented with a great meal that looks appetizing, but in truth, there is a contradiction to the meal. The title suggests that the nation we live in is a generation of fast food. There is an assumption that the all American meal is not healthy, but instead fast food gives the reader an insight on how people have no idea what they