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:: Fast Food Nation

Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s 2001 non-fiction book offers little more than a sensationalised and over-dramatised fictional view of the production of beef patties for the fast food industry. The film is inundated with one dimensional characters and story lines that never really go anywhere. Whilst the film touches on several important and current themes such as illegal immigration, drug use, sexism and bullying in the workplace and the power of ‘big business’ - none of the themes are ever really develop and the viewer is left with an unsatisfactory patchwork of loose ends.

Whilst the cast is quite an impressive ensemble of heavy weights like Bruce Willis and Ethan Hawke, young guns Wilmer Valdemarra and Catalina Sandino Moreno as well as music legend Kris Kristofferson and teen sensation Avril Lavigne - the films characters are overshadowed by the unimaginative stereotypes they portray. Structurally the film chops and changes, characters appear and disappear before we ever really get a chance to know them.

The film begins with the introduction of Don Henderson, a corporate executive of Mickey’s Fast Food chain, with a cushy job in a big city office. The success of Henderson’s winning ticket, “The Big One” is jeopardised when the meat in the number one selling burger is found to be contaminated. Henderson heads off on a mission to find out what is going wrong at UMP, the meat packing plant where the Big One meat is produced. Why the company sends a marketing executive to investigate what is quite obviously a job for health and safety inspectors still eludes me. The story then attempts to develop into an expose of evil corporate America and all its ills - using illegal immigrants for cheap labour, sexually abusing workers, blatant bullying of workers and unhygienic and unsafe working places. Quite frankly its all a bit too much. We are bombarded with undeveloped stereotypical characters – the single mother doing it tough, the pimply angry teenage kids working at the burger chain, the uncle that ‘got out of town’ but comes back to inspire his niece with tales of a bigger, better world. Then there are the illegal Mexican immigrants crossing the border in search of a better future but instead getting forced into underpaid jobs at the meat packing plant and getting hooked on cocaine and methamphetamines in turn leading to accidents at work – chasing the American dream.

The film delivers nothing new to its audience. Most people living and functioning in the modern world are aware of the ruthless plight of big business and the fact that junk food is bad for you. The film seemed to be a condescending and blatant advertisement for animal welfare activists and vegetarians. The majority of the world eats meat. Ever heard of the food chain?

I found it hard to enjoy this movie after experiencing first hand the narrow minded and uneducated views expressed by the film. Growing up on a beef producing farm where my parents still grow and sell beef, I recognise that the themes represented in this movie are fabricated through the eyes of over dramatic Hollywood hype. Perhaps things are different in America, although I cant imagine that they would be too far removed, but in Australia, meat sold to chains such as MacDonalds is governed by strict legislations including the Australian Standard for Hygienic Production of Meat for Human Consumption and all abattoirs are governed by and subject to the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS). These legislations ensure the quality of the meat that makes it into the Big Macs and Cheeseburgers we buy – from the farm on which the cattle are bred, through their sale to feedlots, through the killing process and onto our dinner plates. There are strict and stringent health, safety and hygiene regulations in place at the slaughterhouses in which the animals are killed and it is virtually impossible for any type of foreign matter to make its way into the meat. Finally, the actual slaughter of the animals is conducted in the most humane way possible for a high volume killing floor.

Unfounded and ignorant and with little depth of plot or character to allow for these misgivings. I will give the movie some credit though for the hype it has created. Apart from that though, I can not really recommend it.