Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fast Food Nation

Last night I saw Fast Food Nation. Generally, I came away quite impressed with this fictionalized film about the evils of our fast food system, despite its obvious flaws and only partial dramatic success. It's always tough to make a drama whose main purpose is a documentary MESSAGE, rather than telling a good story about the trials and triumphs of a central character or characters. At first, it seemed, the main star was the Mickey Big One itself -- camera angles and conversations turned rather noticeably around people's plates and fridges, not to mention TV commercials and suburban fast food alleys. It was indeed hard going for a while identifying with any of the characters -- neither the migrant workers from Mexico who are coyotied across the border and compelled to work in the brutal conditions of a slaughterhouse/hamburger plant, nor the marketing manager of the fictional Mickey's Hamburgers who feels impelled to investigate the plant for hygienic, and as it turns out, moral impropriety. But eventually, once the characters and story lines are established, a very moving drama unfolds. The acting is superb, and the dialogue natural and well-handled. Some pretty big stars lent their talents to this one, including Bruce Willis, Avril Lavigne and Kris Kristofferson; a number of the lesser knowns also turned in excellent performances. It is a film, though, that leaves you shaking your head at the unending grimness of it all: The marketing manager fails to have any effect on the firm that employs him, the exploited workers continue to be exploited, a group of student protesters fails to raise the slightest ripple of awareness, the SYSTEM goes inexorably on. This of course is gritty REALITY in big caps -- right down to those hard-to-get stock shots of the killing floor, some of which are noticeably grainier than the dramatic footage. It's been said that if our factory farms and slaughterhouses had windows, we'd all become vegetarians. It's actually remarkable that the director was able to get such juicy (rather, bloody) stock footage at all. The forces of concealment are so pervasive and powerful that a film laying bare some of our systemic horrors is actually refreshing. In other words, it's a message that needs to be told -- and retold. Too bad the film was so poorly distributed (I saw it only because a student of mine passed on a pirated copy.) Anyway, you can be sure I won't be eating steaks or hamburger for a long while. (I should probably leave off pork & chicken, too.)

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