DVD Release Date:   March 9, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  November 22, 2006 (wide)
Rating:  R (for disturbing images, strong sexuality, language and drug content)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time: 112 min.
Director:  Richard Linklater
Actors:  Greg Kinnear, Bobby Cannavale, Wilmer Vilderamma, Patricia Arquette, Ashley Johnson, Esai Morales, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Lou Taylor Pucci, Ana Claudia Talancon, Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Willis.

One hundred years after Upton Sinclair published his epic novel, “The Jungle,” which chronicled the horrors and abuses of the meat-packing industry from an immigrant’s perspective, comes this long-awaited screen version of Eric Schlosser’s blockbuster treatise about the fast-food chains taking over America.

Weaving together multiple story lines, writer-director Richard Linklater introduces us to Don (Greg Kinnear), an earnest marketing executive with “Mickey's,” the popular (and thinly-disguised) fast-food restaurant.  After sniffing a few of the chemically-engineered perfumes used to give the meat aromatic appeal, Don learns that the chain’s best-selling burger, “The Big One” (which he invented), has tested positive for feces contamination.

Don travels to Cody, Colorado to visit the mega-slaughterhouse and packing plant which provides all the meat for Mickey’s.  There, in small-town America, a high school cashier named Amber (Ashley Johnson) rings up Don’s meal while another student (Paul Dano), jealous of the pair’s bantering, spits onto a burned burger before sending it out for Don to eat.  Meanwhile, a Mexican coyote (Luis Guzman) shepherds a group of immigrants across the border, accidentally leaving one behind to die.  The group, which includes Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), her sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon) and her young husband (Wilmer Valderrama), ends up in Cody, where they head to work at the meat-packing plant.  Coco – like so many others before her – soon falls prey to the charms (and drugs) of their unscrupulous supervisor (Bobby Canavale).

Don visits a local rancher (Kris Kristofferson), who tells him everything he did not want to know.  The slaughter line at the packing company, he explains, moves so fast that the workers don’t have time to properly gut the cow’s entrails.  As a result, it gets slopped into the meat.  It’s a chronic problem with no easy solution.  At Don’s next meeting, a cocky meat buyer (Bruce Willis) warns Don not to get too involved with the situation.  He also reveals that Don’s boss is about to be exposed for tax fraud.  Soon after, Don packs up and leaves, after suggesting “further testing” on the meat.

In the DVD featurette, Linklater explains his decision to fictionalize Schlosser’s non-fiction book.  He wanted the story to be “more accessible,” he said.  Given the film’s strong socio-political message (which unfortunately drives the narrative); the simple plot lines; and the four cartoons featured in the DVD extras, their target audience appears to teens.  Certainly, things are laid our fairly simply.  As a result, the translation from book to film – despite the strong message – is weak.  This is particularly disappointing given the extraordinarily well-researched revelations contained in the book, which deserve to be widely disseminated.

Still, “Fast Food Nation” communicates its point.  First of all, the filmmakers want us to see that the world, which was previously quite human (as characterized by family farms) is now being run by machines and corporations.  We’re treated to shot after shot of the packing plant (filmed in Mexico, by the way), along with various comments about the mechanization of society – which is deeply connected to our growing corporate culture, whose only goal is profit.  Although this view is a bit too nostalgic (industrialization was very widespread by the mid-1800’s, after all), it’s one that certainly has merit.