So, I went to see Fast Food Nation. And, wow, it’s kind of a mess–though a well-meaning one, a tangle of half-developed plots and cardboard characters all marshaled not so much to tell a story as bolster the bullet points of Eric Schlosser ‘s original muckraking brilliance. The fast-food industry cares more about profits than people–thus Greg Kinnear’s corporate patsy, who may mean well but is so fundamentally corrupt he watches bad girl-on-girl porn in his hotel room! Meatpackers exploit and abuse immigrant labor–so the menacing manager at the plant isn’t just a soulless prick, he’s also a sexual predator who gets his illegal Mexican girlfriends hooked on crank!
The star power doesn’t help. Wilmer Valderrama is surprisingly good as an illegal immigrant who takes a job cleaning the blood and guts off the machines at the slaughterhouse. But even his sensitive performance couldn’t prevent my brain from interrupting to ask, “Hey, isn’t that Fez from That 70s Show?” Bruce Willis has a terrific cameo as the voice of libertarian reason (“There’s a little shit in all our meat,” he tells Kinnear with disarming candor), but watching him chew the scenery all I could think was, “Well, Bruce Willis sure is enjoying himself.” Ethan Hawke turns up later for a similar turn, but as usual he was just annoying.
Still in all, it’s not a bad movie. The righteous anger the material inspires goes a long way. But what stuck with me the most was my own reaction to the film’s climax, a (spoiler alert) graphic livestock snuff film in which calves (and a horse or two, I think) are stunned, killed, decapitated, dehooved, flayed, and gutted. Somehow in the face of such gore I was unmoved–which freaked the crap out of me.
All I can think it’s that it’s a consequence of enlightenment: I’ve read Schlosser already–and Michael Pollan, and Temple Grandin–and I already know slaughterhouses are animal hell on earth. I think this is the biggest problem with the film: Linklater is preaching to the choir, and for those who haven’t joined up already there’s not much other incentive to pay the $9.50 it costs to hear the sermon.