Fast Food Nation (Linklater, 2006)

Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation captures the corporate soullessness of American institutions unlike any other recent film. Using the fabricated fast food chain Mickey’s as a model, the film’s scope is sweeping, covering a number of groups including illegal aliens from Mexico who work in the meat packing plant, a company executive (played by Greg Kinnear), teenage employees of the restaurants, and student activists at the local university trying to bring light to the issues at hand. All are entrenched in the cycle of modern corporate America, even though some don’t realize it until late in the film, and it’s a costly naiveté. Fast Food Nation is unconventional for American mainstream cinema in that it’s completely and overtly political, a direct attempt to reveal the atrocities and inhumane activities being committed by these large, machine style companies. The bottom line is all that matters (as seen in the great scene with Bruce Willis’ crooked negotiator and another involving Kirs Kristofferson’s wise rancher) and Fast Food Nation assembles a multitude of different valid critiques on this system, the most impressive being the final horrifying sequence of the cows being slaughtered on the “kill floor” of the processing plant. Linklater fuses this scene with a deliberately toned down score (most of the movie has non-diagetic music overflowing the image), following Catalina Sandino Moreno’s immigrant worker Sylvia toward her new job from hell. Linklater means business, but waits till the end to really lay on the money shots of filth, blood, guts, and skin. This strategy is extremely effective because it surpasses and disgusts the viewer at the same time. He’s weaned us on character interactions with very little visceral touch. That all changes with his montage of cow slaughter, and this transition saves the film from being too flat. The final act of Linklater’s film is filled with these moments, rectifying the sometimes monotonous interactions seen earlier. It’s not his finest moment (and Linklater has many), but Fast Food Nation is a daring and risky expose of the stinking, rotting smell of Western greed, and the impotency regular citizens feel when faced with such faceless opposition. Fast Food Nation gets to the heart of this complex relationship between buyer and seller, never forgetting to make time for the liver, the spleen, and the gut wrenching punch to the stomach American’s desperately need to wake up and smell the shit.

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