I can definitely see where director and co-writer Richard Linklater is coming from with Fast Food Nation. You can empathize with its characters and what they’re struggling for/against and you can absolutely agree with what he’s trying to say is wrong but after the film was over I couldn’t help but be rather miffed and uncertain why everything was presented so haphazardly.
Fast Food Nation tackles and examines the health risks involved in the fast food industry, taking a look at how the food is prepared, what happens to the animals before they become the food, and the general environmental and social consequences of the industry itself.
To me this was one hell of a wasted opportunity. Although the basics are there in the film’s ideas, beliefs, and intended struggles against the corporate industries, it seemed as if Linklater just didn’t care when he put the film together. There is simply too much going on, too many characters and too many ideas fighting for their place within the film. The result is a haphazard mess for the most part, with bursts of Linklater’s usual witty and insightful dialogue to save the film from disaster.
The film starts off concentrating on Greg Kinnear’s company man who gets sent by his peers to check out the conditions and quality of the food his place of work provides. And if the film had stayed on that track I could’ve went right along with it. However it starts to introduce other characters such as some Mexicans crossing over into the U.S. to find work, some bored fast-food employees, and some teens who want to “fight the system”, to name but a few. The only thing seemingly linking all of these characters is the fast-food industry, which I guess you could argue is the point. Fair enough, I personally just don’t see it. The characters seem linked but they aren’t really, not in any solid way; the film comes complete (or incomplete) with no real, plausible reason why we would be watching all of these different people in the space of one movie. I got the fact that the giant fast-food companies are so large that they affect almost everyone – within the first twenty minutes, after that I just got sick of being battered over the head with it.
Clearly I am in the minority in thinking all of that, going by the film’s vast array of actors. Since we have the likes of Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette, Linklater regular Ethan Hawke, and even Bruce Willis at one point – it’s clear that a lot of people believed in the material. And this ensemble cast of known (and very good unknown) actors creates entertainment for the movie star fans we all are on some level. The film’s dialogue has Linklater’s trademark insightfulness, written to near-perfection as per usual. Even when the film veers off track, as it does many, many times, the dialogue just seems to grab a tight hold of your attention and before you know it you’ve been listening to a character, in particular Hawke’s who swoops in halfway through the film, effectively saving the day, natter on about something not entirely critical to the film. And in that respect I give Fast Food Nation a respectful nod.
I challenge anyone to come away from watching Fast Food Nation and want to head to your local fast-food place any time soon. The film contains some explicit and rather disturbing footage of animals being killed, cut up, and made into hamburgers, and the like. I am unsure as to whether the actual footage they showed was shot in real factories or not, but you can bet your ass it’s based on fact. I am not really sure why these scenes were in there, and so explicitly other than to shock you. It definitely worked if that was the intention. This is by no means an easy watch at times, and in that way I feel the film just didn’t work. It plays itself up as a satire of sorts but soon transcends into a weird mix of failed comedy and stark seriousness.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the brilliant 2005 film Thank You For Smoking. I felt as if that’s what Fast Food Nation should have been aiming to be like or at least be as good as. Whether or not the intention was for satire or plain dramatized facts I don’t know, but what I do know is whatever the intention was – the film fails.