Fast Food Nation

Starring Greg Kinneaer, Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette. Directed by Richard Linklater.
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If Morgan Spurlock had seen Fast Food Nation (or read the book by Eric Schlosser who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Linklater), there would have been no 30 days of eating at McDonald's and no 'Super Size Me'. He would have sworn off burgers instantly and forever.

The disclaimer at the end that any similarity to any characters is coincidental needs to be read with tongue-in-cheek. McDonald's arches are visible at times and a list of fast food outlets is mentioned during the film.

However, the film's intention is not simply to target the burger franchises, though it does that very, very effectively. By the time the film ends, we have met the executives, listened to their marketing ploys and advertising campaigns, discovered that there are probably traces of manure in the patties, seen acres full of crowded herds fattened on genetically modified feed (which makes them listless when fences go down and they could have stampeded to freedom), toured the spotless parts of the enormous Colorado plant, seen the workers hosing down floors (and rats) and, finally, been taken into the stun gun, blood and guts slaughtering halls.

The genial Greg Kinnear is the marketing man who is asked to go to Colorado to investigate. Along the way, we he listens to two entertaining cameos who put forward opposite views on the meatworks. Kris Kristofferson as a rancher has nothing good to say about them. He is the prosecution. On the other hand, Bruce Willis turns up with another of his clever performances as a good ol' boy who is downing his burgers even as he concedes that things aren't perfect and that Americans have become weak and too fearful of everything. Cook the patty well and you get rid of any impurities! He speaks for the defence.

Ethan Hawke also turns up as a rather free-spirited uncle who makes speeches about not doing what others say you should but listen to yourself and act accordingly. Patricia Arquette is his sister and Ashley Johnson is his niece who teams up with a student group to try to do something about the meatworks - rather than simply write a letter of protest.

In case the review so far gives the impression that the film is solely about burgers and fast food, it is definitely not. It is about the illegals coming into the US from Mexico, the smuggling, the harsh treatment, the poverty, the menial jobs, the ugly jobs at the meatworks which can literally tear limbs from workers. It is about the American dream - and how the migrants, used, exploited with drugs and sexually and victimised with false medical reports to say that workers had drugs in their bloodstream and therefore caused the accidents which maim them, thus absolving the company from blame and expenses).

The film featured in competition in Cannes, May 2006, the month that thousands of Hispanic workers went on strike in the US to highlight their plight and how much the fast food nation depended on them. It was shown the week that a force of 10,000 was sent by President Bush to control the Mexican border against illegals.

It might be preachy at times. The targets are obvious. But, a good story, some humour and some serious drama are not bad ways of communicating a topical message.


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