We're Living In It
I guess nobody liked A Scanner Darkly. Or maybe there everyone thought there was too much media coverage for it. Otherwise, I can't find any reason why nobody, not even Reverse Shot has been mentioning the release tomorrow of Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation is getting the shaft like it is. Which is a shame, because it is well worth your time.
I must say I was disappointed in Fast Food Nation, if only because it wasn't the Richard Linklater of Dazed and Confused I was witnessing. But upon further thought, the film has grown in value significantly. I can't say I'm happy with my favorite Slacker making an Important movie, but he manages to imbue it with enough feeling and craft to make it rise above the Crashes of the world.
Fast Food Nation tells the interlocking stories of a group of people in Colorado surrounding the fictional fast food restaurant Mickey's. We see one of the members of the Mickey's executive board (Greg Kinnear), a few employees at a local restaurant (Ashley Johnson and Paul Dano), and some illegal immigrants who work in the slaughterhouse that provides the meat for The Big One, Mickey's signiture dish (Catalina Sandino Moreno and Wilmer Valderrama).
Every member of the cast provides just the right touch, though Bruce Willis feels a bit out of place. And this being a Linklater film, you know Ethan Hawke is going to make some sort of appearance. Greg Kinnear delivers in what, for the first half of the film, is the central performance of the film. But as his story works its way through, Ashley Johnson and Catalina Sandino Moreno take the heavy load of the acting, and they pull it off brilliantly. And major credit must go to Kris Kristofferson, who steals his scene with ease and provides the basis for the last scene of the film.
While the acting is good, it's the editing of the film that really won me over. The cuts between different storyline were smooth and also suggested so much more. Watch the scene in which Raul (Valderrama) and his friend go into the factory for the first time, walking through the freezer. And we cut to the frozen breakfast eaten by Cindy (Patricia Arquette) as she talks to her daughter, Amber (Johnson). Linklater pulls no punches, letting us know directly that Cindy may not be eating what's coming from Raul's slaughterhouse, but it's all part of the same machine.
Fast Food Nation is also notable for its acceptance of all sorts of brand names. We see the corporatization of America before our eyes, and so it comes as a shock to us when we see the wide open ranges owned by Rudy (Kristofferson). But the real shock, at least for me, came in the final scene. It will probably affect you less if you've read the book. We finally go on a tour of the killing floor, the part of the tour that Don (Kinnear) wasn't shown. Rudy may have told us about what we should expect, but I was still sickened to my stomach watching the internal organs of a cow sliding along a chute to be disposed of. It's a very powerful scene, and it serves to close the tome of horrors we have just read.
Everything we saw before the killing floor was just in preparation for this one sequence. We saw a Mickey's employee (Dano) spit in a burger. We say him drop a patty on the ground and put it back on the grill. We even saw a man lose his leg in the machinery of the slaughterhouse. And yet none of it can compare to the killing floor.
Fast Food Nation may not be Linklater's best movie (of this year), but it still serves as a solid drama and a great expose. So forget your Bonds and your Happy Feet. Fast Food Nation is where it's at.
Update: I guess I spoke too soon. Reverse Shot finally checks in with their opinion. Elbert Ventura basically writes the review I wish I could. The best review of it I've read, measuring the quality of the writing as opposed to the quality of the rating.