By Don Simpson | November 17, 2006
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Eric Schlosser (book), Richard Linklater, Eric Schlosser (screenplay)
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Wilmer Valderrama, Bobby Cannavale, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson
As a vegetarian, it is difficult for me to relate to living in fear of things like mad cow disease and Ebola virus (okay, there was that spinach scare). It is also impossible for me to comprehend why people eat fast food. The only thing that makes fast food better than cigarettes is that at least you are not killing the people around you while you eat a hamburger; but both are ridiculous ways for people to express their democratic freedom of choice, by slowly killing themselves.
A certain non-fiction book came out a couple years ago; you may know it, it was on many bestseller lists for quite a while and I do not know how anyone could eat fast food after reading it. The book is Fast Food Nation, written by Eric Schlosser. Maybe you skipped it because you were scared, or do not like reading (especially non-fiction)?
Lucky for you, Richard Linklater has adapted the book to film. You do not even have to sit through a preachy documentary because it is fictionalized and includes sex, drugs and violence. How great is that?
Those who have read the book might be concerned that a fictionalized version could only be total crap, but fear not, the crap is in the burger. The film works as a companion piece to the book. Aspects of the book are granted various degrees of priority, ranging from subtle visual references to entire plots dedicated to them. Of course not all the facts from the book could be as blatantly brutal and memorable as a stunning shot to the head on the kill room floor. Poor cow.
Linklater is the master of philosophical and political diatribes that tightrope on the edge of conspiracy theory (most notably Slacker, Dazed and Confused and Waking Life) and Fast Food Nation is perfect fodder for his style. His true knack is with teen dialogue; in Fast Food Nation he chooses young college students as the characters most knowledgeable about the crimes of the fast food industry. They are the most willing to fight for a change. Amber (Ashley Johnson), the focus of one of three narratives, is the real hero of the film and an ideal role model for the teen audience. In other words, kids, listen to your conspiracy-spouting uncle, dump your dead-end fast food job, stand up and fight for a real change.
The other two narratives, focusing on the slaughterhouses, are less intriguing but necessary. One follows a van loaded with illegal workers from Mexico brought to work in the slaughterhouses of Cody, Colorado. Instead of finding the “American Dream,” they are mistreated, underpaid, drugged and mutilated. The other strand focuses on Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), the marketing manager of Mickey’s (name changed to avoid McLibel). Don discovers there are feces in the Big One (the very burger he invented) – no wonder they use perfumes to make fast food smell more appealing! He heads off to the Cody slaughterhouse to find out how this happened. Essentially, Don serves as the film’s investigative force sharing many of the same observations as Eric Schlosser’s book.
You’re obviously wondering if a marketing manager would really lead this investigation. Fast food chains have their hands deep in our government’s pockets and therefore have a much stronger influence on workplace safety legislation, minimum wage requirements, immigration and environmental laws than our elected officials. In other words, the Big Brother of our Patriot Act may be watching us, but he sure as hell is not watching out for us.
For more information on taking action or at least choosing a healthy diet, Linklater recommends: www.participate.net. But I recommend avoiding eating fast food crap (pun intended) at all costs.