Director Richard Linklater has been a vegetarian for more than
two decades, so he may have been an inspired choice to collaborate
with author Eric Schlosser on an adaptation of Schlosser's nonfiction
book
Fast Food Nation, an in depth examination of the fast food industry
that operates in America with little regulation and even less concern
for the workers, the animals who are slaughtered, and the end customer.
Many compared Schlosser's book with
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's early
20th-century study of the meatpacking industry and its excesses and                 
abuses. (Schlosser book written nearly 100 years later noted that
very little fundamentally had changed.) Instead of going for a
straightforward documentary approach for a film based on the book,
Schlosser and Linklater collaborated on a fictionalized story that used
Sherwood Anderson's collection of short stories
Winesburg, Ohio as a
template.

  In that vein, the film
FAST FOOD NATION trackes multiple
stories and characters, some of whom overlap. The fictional restaurant
chain is called Mickey's, a hamburger joint that has introduced a new
sandwich called The Big One. Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) is the chain's
marketing manager and he is dispatched to Colorado to one of the meat
plants because tests have indicated that fecal matter has been detected
in the burgers.

  Simultaneously, a group of illegal Mexican immigrants, including
married couple Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and Raul (Wilmer
Valderrama) and Sylvia's sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancón) cross the
border and make their way to Colorado where they attempt to find
employment. For Raul and Coco, that means at the meat processing
plant while Sylvia works as a maid at a local hotel.
  
  While visiting Colorado, Don stops in at the local Mickey's
franchise and meets Amber (Ashley Johnson), a teen who lives with
her single mom (Patricia Arquette). Don later visits a local rancher
(Kris Kristofferson) and gets a lesson in local corruption as well as
the cost-cutting methods (like running the production lines at a rapid
pace) at the local plant. A follow-up meeting with meat buyer Harry
Rydell (Bruce Willis in a terrific single-scene cameo) shows just how
much of a naif Don really is.

  Some of the same disturbing images as to how the animals
are killed and then slaughtered appear in the documentary
OUR DAILY BREAD but it's doubtful that very many people saw
that nonfiction film. Linklater doesn't shy away from showing the gross
aspects of the job and the demeaning manner in which the workers are
treated. (One predatory supervisor, played with a cartoon-like villainy
by Bobby Carnevale, preys on young women for sexual favors then
discards them after he has had his way.)

  The large cast is uniformly excellent and the film has been
designed to stir the pot -- to fire up controversy. Unfortunately,
audiences don't seem to be responding. Global warming is the hot
button issue but our food supply and its contamination is just as
important.


          
Rating:                B-
          
MPAA Rating:    R for disturbing images, strong sexuality,
                                          language and drug content
          
Running time:     116 mins.
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.