Fast Food Nation Reviews
What we get here are a series of interconnected stories revolving around the various people involved with a fast food chain, and the role that the restaurant and various aspects connected to it affect all of these people, and vice versa. It seems like a rather odd and challenging way to adapt a work of non-fiction, but somehow it kinda works.
Granted, the film barely scratches the surface, and seems a little too neat, tidy, and convenient in places, but it strikes a nice balance between being a message movie like the similar Super Size Me or Food, Inc. and still being entertaining without too much pretense or over-the-top manipulation to make a point. Yes, there's some disturbing moments and images, but it's not as revolting and off putting as you might be lead to believe.
Instead, it's rather nuanced. and more about the human stories and the role of fast food within culture as opposed to being an extremist piece of muckraking propaganda.
As he is good at doing, Linklater has a wonderful ensemble cast lined up for this which includes Ethan Hawke, Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette, Bonbby Cannavale, Wilmer Valderama, and two wonderful,. if not brilliant appearances from Kris Kristofferson and (especially) Bruce Willis. Most of their performances are pretty good too...for the most part. Avril Lavigne sucks it up, but at least she's not in it for too long.
All in all, a pretty decent film. I'm not going to become a vegetarian as a result of watching this, and it didn't tell me a whole lot that I didn't already know, but at least gave some more awareness and the arguments that are made are pretty well balanced are well done, too.
I suppose that attempting to fictionalize a non-fiction book about a systemic problem sets one up to create plastic characters who stand in for larger social problems, and to put Richard Linklater whose characters are plastic anyway only compounds the problem. Typical of Linklater, the heroes and villains are clearly defined; the heroes are anti-establishment types who spout conspiracy theories, and the villains are either conspirators, dupes in the process, or like the cows in the penultimate scene of the film, too stupid to do anything substantial. There are some Mexican illegal immigrants who have some interesting differences from the basic Linklater approach, but these characters aren't substantial enough to carry the film. Additionally, plot elements like Brian's planned robbery and Don's further investigation are inexplicably dropped, leaving parts of the film unfinished.
On a positive note, the film's heart is in the right place. Linklater and co-writer Eric Schlosser are writing against fast food joints, and their arguments are similar to Michael Pollan's. With disgusting images of the kill floor in a slaughterhouse and charges that such places are exploiting illegal labor markets, this argument is strong, and I hope that it finds a receptive audience.
Overall, as a film, Fast Food Nation is not very good, but as a social argument, I can't hate it too much.
Some dark comedy elements are evident beneath the bloody surface and should have been given more attention. Some of the performances--particularly Catalina Sandino Moreno as a hapless migrant meat-packing worker and Bobby Cannavale as her unscrupulous American half-breed boss--are stand-outs in a cast that is comprised of lesser talent and blipping cameos by the likes of Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and even Avril Lavigne. The movie basically tries too hard to be "cool" in its divulging its message, but can't get off the ground. By the time the end of the film comes around, you've seen enough suffering by illegal immigrants and cows and not enough suffering by the corporation that's enabling the hurt.
The movie tries to tell people: STAY AWAY FROM FAST FOOD. I try to tell people: STAY AWAY FROM FAST FOOD NATION. Watch Super Size Me instead.
Show my feet the step ahead, stay hope on the gilded road to dawn
All the world must forget me now, as scattering ravens its memory flown
And bury my years in bone and ash, please spare not yesterday its tomb
Take me where the song needs singing, take me to the time I'm gone
Where dust of higher things float free, and boughs of ancient forests yawn
Of quiet excite in empty theaters, that merry shadow dance is mine
The truth of dreams is morrow's words, a verse away from being known
So as one concedes Imagine's game, its buoyant laughter wise and long
I leave my eyes and better lives, embalming pulse of showers loom
To walk this path of blinding summits, a thousand kings away from golden
In a couple of areas, the film is kind of all over the place, and it's certainly that when it comes to pacing, because as if Richard Linklater's directorial dryness doesn't stiffen momentum enough, Linklater's and Eric Schlosser's script goes dragged out by repetitious filler set pieces and even a couple excessive narrative layers which bloat focus to the point of losing consistency. The film ambitiously juggles various subplots involving the discovery of dark business secrets, the perspective of members of different stages in a questionable business process, and a few other affairs, and with all of that going on, the film ends up being pretty uneven, partly because it doesn't take much time to settle in on developing the various dramatic layers. No, the film is more thematic than dramatic, being kind of lacking in human depth as an ensemble character story, the fleshing out of which could have ironically made for a more thematically effective opus, the depths of which are undercut enough by an unevenness in tone. I suppose this is generally a continuation of Linklater's more dramatic movement following "Bad News Bears", but Linklater cannot completely wash away the lighter moments that, while often effective in livening things up, feel less like comic relief and more like jarring breaks in dramatic weight that is to ostensibly to be taken seriously, as reflected by Linklater's getting to be a little too thoughtful in his direction. As I said earlier, scripted pacing is problematic enough, but a bigger problem might very well be atmospheric pacing, as Linklater adopts his most thoughtful tone in quite some time, and often gets carried away with it, to the point of all-out dryness and, dare I say, dullness, which further thins down a sense of weight that is softened enough by unrealized characterization and whatnot, until Linklater tries too hard to drive home dramatic weight. Moments of slight tonal abrasiveness and obvious visuals inspired subtlety lapses which reflect ambition through all of the laziness, and such a sloppy formula goes challenged enough by genuine inspiration to save the film, but, well, barely. The final product flirts with mediocrity as an uneven drama that is too lacking in depth and entertainment value to be all that effective, but what the film does right is done very right, and that even goes further certain aesthetic touches.
As one of Richard Linklater's more dry endeavors in relatively recent years, this film is very unevenly exploratory of musicality, but that only makes it all the more special when post-rock band Friends of Dean Martinez delivers on a subtly dynamic and intricate score whose personal artistic value and atmospheric value do a lot to drive highlights in the film's aesthetic value, sustained throughout the final product by cinematography by Lee Daniel whose watery coloration and subtle lighting are handsomely unique and fitting to the grimy tone of the drama. Style is solid in this drama of limited substance, and when Linklater, as director, does indeed influence substance with style, in addition to controlled moments in generally questionable pacing, the film bites as genuinely intriguing, both thematically, and dramatically. Of course, if there are dramatic highlights here, they're perhaps mostly the doing, not of Linklater's performance, but of the performances found throughout a hefty, if oversized cast of esteemed talents whose convincingness, often mixed with solid dramatic layering, does a much finer job of selling the human factor of this drama than the storytelling. Depth is seriously lacking in a lot of ways to storytelling, and were it not for the worthy, if underwritten performances the final product could have perhaps sunk deeper into the brink of mediocrity, and yet, there are still those highlights in storytelling, and certainly value to subject matter. On paper, the film's story is of greater worth than its execution, as a drama that studies on various interpretations of morally challenging affairs, and as a deconstruction of the fast food industry and the problematic technical and human factors behind it, with a great potential for intrigue that is done only so much justice by Linklater and Eric Schlosser, as screenwriters. The script is overblown, undercooked and often even unsubtle, and that's a problem so big that it threatens the decency of the final product, which is actually secured partly by highlights in Linklater's and Schlosser's scripting, whose razor-sharp dialogue keeps up a degree of entertainment value during all of the dull chatter, and whose extensiveness as a showcase of worthy themes intrigues about as much as highlights in memorable characterization and plot structuring. The script has flat elements, in addition to elements that are all-out strong, as surely as Linklater's direction meets its own flat elements with strengths, enough to drive the final product as adequately effective, if not what it should have been and wants to be.
When the order is up, uneven pacing, focus and tone, serious underdevelopment and alternations between a bland lack of flare and some glaring subtlety lapses threaten even decency in the promising project, but through solid scoring and cinematography, thoughtful direction, strong performances and clever highlights in the scripted interpretation of dramatically and thematically worthy subject matter, mediocrity is challenged enough for "Fast Food Nation" to stand as a serviceably intriguing and sometimes thought-provoking, if often either overambitious or lazy portrait on the grimy depths and varying interpretations of the flawed fast food industry.
2.5/5 - Fair