Fast Food Nation
Greg Kinnear, Luis Guzman, Paul Dano, Wilmer Valderrama, with Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson. Director Richard Linklater
The most compelling of the two stories has nothing to do with fast food, but is the story of how Mexican laborers cross the desert to find work in meat processing plants (and hotels), and what they have to do to get and keep jobs that are physically grueling and disgusting (like skinning and eviscerating cattle). But the film gives the main narrative line to Kinnear as an executive at a thinly disguised McDonalds-type burger corporation, trying to find out why there are fecal coliform bacteria in the meat patties. He takes a tour of the meat processing factory, which is actually quite interesting, and interviews a few people who have no real information but make grand, vacuous speeches about the state of America. Kinnear discovers nothing factual. Despite my expectations, this movie is not an expose of the meat packing industry. People may be horrified to see how cows become hamburgers, but there’s nothing scandalous about it. Cows are a crop cultivated to be eaten, just like carrots. The young white college students who are horrified by meat processing are shown to be ignorant and silly. On the other hand, how the Mexican laborers struggle to make a life in America is scandalous, but that story is not developed, except to show stereotypes of their travail. We don’t get insight into any of the characters and the movie ends without resolution. Ethan Hawke gives a standout performance but his part is completely irrelevant to the main themes. On the plus side, the visual imagery is strong, especially the meat processing and the suburban squalor, the dialog is snappy, and the acting is pretty good all around. Better story integration, tighter editing, and more character development would have made it an A movie.