In the past half century, fast food has become exponentially popular, offering a speedy and affordable dining alternative. However, as chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell continue to peddle their products, the public unwittingly pays the price for their profit.
In a day and age when these corporations have a virtual stranglehold on the national economy, Fast Food Nation is a refreshingly welcome piece of entertainment that aims to educate audiences about an industry that has forsaken human welfare for the almighty dollar.
Based on Eric Schlosser’s best-selling novel of the same name, Fast Food Nation is more of a dramatization than an adaptation. In his novel, Schlosser (who co-wrote the film’s script) launches into a diatribe against the fast food industry’s inhumane treatment of both its livestock and its workers, as well as the devastating health effects of its products. Although its source material does not feature a conventional narrative, the film creates a story that illustrates Schlosser’s points in a dramatic and wholly captivating manner.
Directed by Richard Linklater (Waking Life, School of Rock), the film revolves primarily around Don Anderson (Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear), a top marketing executive at a leading fast food corporation named Mickey’s.
After some questionable reports come to light regarding the quality of the meat in his company’s sandwiches, Anderson travels to the Midwest to explore the sanitation involved in the product’s creation.
Instead of focusing solely on Anderson’s investigation, Fast Food Nation merely uses his quest to anchor the film. Like Crash and Traffic, the film employs multiple story arcs in order to explore the various facets of the issue being examined. The ensemble cast includes an assortment of gifted actors, including Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Arguette, Ashley Johnson, Wilmer Valderrama, Luis Guzman and Bobby Cannavale.
Although a number of stars appear, Oscar nominees Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) and Ethan Hawke (Training Day) offer the most impressive performances. Moreno plays a Mexican immigrant named Sylvia who is forced to suffer through revolting working conditions at the Uni-Globe Meat Packing Plant, where meat patties are processed and packaged. She embodies the suffering of the desperate employees the company preys on, and her emotional responses to the harrowing conditions she must endure to keep her job are startlingly realistic and shocking.
Conversely, Hawke plays the free-spirited Pete. Although he appears in only three scenes, Pete acts as the voice of reason, advising his niece Amber (Johnson) to quit her job at Mickey’s and pursue her passion in life. He is one of the few characters not related to the company, and he personifies the film’s anti-corporate message.
Fundamentally, Fast Food Nation challenges the audience to fight back against the unjust actions of the fast food industry and attempt to take action. Coming just two years after Super Size Me, the film strives to remind moviegoers that although these companies may seem indestructible, people have the power to change the future. While this message may seem trite, Fast Food Nation succeeds in its goal to incite a response from the audience and remind them that, as the film’s tagline says, “There’s a reason it only costs 99 cents.”
Grade: B+ Rated: R Running time: 2 hours, 36 minutes