Yeah yeah yeah. We all know that fast food is bad for us. It’s already been covered in books, films, television - in fact, even if you haven’t seen or heard anything, it’s blindingly obvious that a big greasy burger is not going to produce healthy results. You’d have to be a total moron not to know this - in fact, you’d deserve to get flabby arteries if you thought any different. So why do we need another film about it all? What is there left to say?
Well, it seems Richard Linklater (who brought us last year’s A Scanner Darkly - a CF top 10) foresaw the above paragraph when he teamed up with Eric Schlosser, the writer of factual novel ‘Fast Food Nation’. Using Eric’s book as a starting point, the guys created a fictional fast food chain (Mickey’s Burgers) and a ensemble of fictional characters. And they used them all to say a heck of a lot more than ‘burgers are bad’.
Not that they come down on the side of burgers. One third of the film follows Don (Greg Kinnear, Little Miss Sunshine), a marketing exec at Mickey’s sent to investigate why traces of cow shit have been found in their burgers. Yummy. This is the point where a non beef-eater such as myself would stick their thumbs to the sides of their heads and waggle their fingers at everyone else, tongue protruding in a ‘ner ner ner-ner ner’ gesture, while secretly thanking the film-makers for a) not focussing on chicken-based products, and b) not showing all the genetically produced fungus that goes into meat substitutes. But at least I haven’t been eating cow shit. Ner ner.
The film’s other narrative strands follow a group of illegal Mexican immigrants sent to work in a meat-packing factory (from which the shit cometh), and a bunch of teenagers who work in one of the chains. The plot strands offer neat little ethical thoughts - the meatpackers are illegal, but they’ve come from poverty and this is a better choice, and Mr Marketing man knows he’s allowing shit and chemicals into the burgers, but they’re not killing anyone, he doesn’t have the power to stop it, and his family have to eat too. So who’s in the wrong, precisely?
But the big mamma of points is summed up in one scene, when a group of activists break down a fence up at the burgers-to-be cattle ranch in order to save the animals. The fence is down, but the cows just don’t want to move - they’re either too dumb to realise, or too afraid to escape their surroundings. Linklater’s basically saying everyone is a big dumb cow, putting up with everything that’s crap in the world because they’re too lazy, or afraid, or stupid to really do anything about it, even when there’s sometimes a solution staring them in the face. Now, I don’t think there’s any issue in particular that he’s aiming at here - just general apathy. Lots of characters harp on about taking action, making a stand, making a difference etc etc. It’s all very inspiring, and I came out of the cinema both completely ready to make a stand against the first atrocity I saw, and also feeling slightly nauseous from the graphic slaughter house scenes at the end.
At times the tone tips a little too far into preachy, with some scenes a bit too blatant (characters occasionally chatter away, then appear to throw in “yes, here comes this opinion which is very poignant” [looks at audience to check they’re paying attention]) and the split narrative creates a strange, disjointed feel to the piece. But with a great cast, some great messages and a clever way of transferring the text to screen, Fast Food Nation scrapes in with a CF2. It’s a shame that the people who could really benefit from its message will be more likely staring blankly at the wall in their nearest shit-burger outlet, than paying attention to the cinema.