Monday, October 23, 2006

Fast Food Nation

Richard Linklater has made a niche for himself with a diverse range of highly original, intelligent and interesting films that are largely dialogue driven. Some are idiosyncratic variations of popular genres like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Waking Life was cutting edge and in a genre of its own while School of Rock was a mainstream hit in the teenage comedy genre.

In a sense, Linklater is like Michael Winterbottom. Though they have very different styles in film-making, both tackle vastly different projects from one film to the next, creating impressive bodies of work. Any Linklater film is going to be anticipated by fans of his work, and Fast Food Nation does not disappoint.

Based on Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction book of the same name, the film is a fictionalisation co-written by Schlosser and Linklater. It opens to smiling families at a Mickey's Burgers store. The remainder of the film goes behind the scenes to reveal the misery and exploitation that goes into each burger.

The structure of the film is unconventional. It is complex, depicting a number of social, economic and human issues with much compassion. Though the characters’ paths cross (or come close to it) at different stages, the film is not exactly an ensemble piece. The different stories don’t join up in a contrived manner we often see in this genre. Sections are pieced together with a solid line up of actors, such as Patricia Arquette, Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke and Kris Kristofferson, each of whose characters are interesting enough to carry the film alone.

The truth behind the burgers we eat is revealed through marketing executive Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear) as he attempts to discover the source of faecal contamination of the burgers. Amber (Ashley Johnson) is the conscience of the film. As she discovers the ethics in producing the burgers she smilingly dispenses to the public, we share in her transformation.

Catalina Sandino Moreno was terrific as the Colombian drug mule in Maria Full of Grace and again shines in this film as the desperate and indignant Mexican illegal worker. Paul Dano’s role as a Mickey’s worker is small but much more interesting than his performance in the mediocre Little Miss Sunshine. Though the story is American, there's relevance to Australia with the proliferation of fast food chains, the new IR laws, and cheap imported labour.

There were lots of interesting small roles played by Avril Lavigne, Luis Guzman, Lou Taylor Pucci and others. The film is largely character-driven but be warned that there are some gruesome scenes towards the end – scenes that should and need to be seen. The film is almost a companion piece to Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. Whereas Super Size Me was an entertaining documentary, it wasn't as hard-hitting as this fictionalised semi-satirical look behind the scenes. Has anyone else noticed that McDonalds is blitzing us with marketing, just as they did in the lead up to Super Size Me? Fast food companies are afraid of this film, and should be. It is well worth seeing.

Dir: Richard Linklater Rating: M Duration: 114 min Genre: drama Language: English Country: USA Release: 26/10/06, wide national Viewed: 23/10/06, Kino, RRR advance screening Dist: Dendy Films Prod Co: Recorded Picture Company Prod: Jeremy Thomas, Malcolm McLaren Scr: Eric Schlosser, Richard Linklater Sound Des: Martin Lopez Phot: Lee Daniel Ed: Sandra Adair Prod Des: Bruce Curtis Mus: Friends of Dean Martinez Cast: Greg Kinnear, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Patricia Arquette, Bobby Cannavale, Ethan Hawke, Kris Kristofferson, Wilmer Valderrama, Bruce Willis, Luis Guzman, Paul Dano, Ashley Johnson, Avril Lavigne, Esai Morales, Lou Taylor Pucci
Official website IMDB


delon melville said...

Fast Food Nation,

aka, The Fourth Burial Of Melquiades Estrada

Paul Martin said...

You didn't like Fast Food Nation, Delon?

delon melville said...

no I did, it was one of Linklater's better films.

Just the lead Mexican, played Melquiades in Tommy Lee Jones masterpiece. Certain symbiotic r/ship, re: the nature of Mexican immigrant workers. Using licence with the term burial, re: indentured (licence) worker.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and leaving your comments, Delon.

I left a short review of Three Burials on At The Movies that was unfortunately truncated. This was before I started my blog. I was impressed by Jones' flawed but worthy effort.

Paul Martin said...

Raul (the lead Mexican) in Fast Food Nation was played by Wilmer Valderrama and Melquiades was played by Julio Cedillo.

delon melville said...


I thought they looked the same.

Perhaps one played the dead Melquiades, and the other played the live one (facetious).

In my defense, I saw them 4 months apart I estimate. I better fact check with IMDB in future.