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‘Fast Food Nation’ puts food fears on film

Fictional movie version raises same concerns as Eric Schlosser's tell-all book
/ Source: The Associated Press

Are we the consumers or the consumed? The Cannes Film Festival entry “Fast Food Nation” examines an America hooked on mass-produced conformity in its eats — and just about everything else.

Adapted from the nonfiction best seller by Eric Schlosser, the film version creates a fictionalized narrative weaving together multiple characters. They are links in a food chain whose climactic question is “Do you want fries with that?”

With a cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Bruce Willis, Avril Lavigne and Catalina Sandino Moreno, the film follows the travails of a fast-food monolith called Mickey’s as it copes with findings that its hot new burger, “The Big One,” is tainted with cow feces.

“Fast Food Nation” traces that scenario from the restaurant counter all the way back to the crowded pens where cattle are raised in assembly-line precision, including a gruesome slaughterhouse sequence that could put the heartiest meat-eaters off animal flesh for a while.

Shot at a Mexican slaughterhouse, the scene features graphic footage of cows being killed and butchered. The bloody imagery was necessary given the film’s message, said director Richard Linklater, who co-wrote the screenplay with Schlosser.

“I think that’s a reality everyone needs to know,” said Linklater, who directed “School of Rock” and “Dazed and Confused.” “We’ve become very separated, very divorced from where everything comes from. We have this delusion in our head: Oh, there’s this healthy little farm somewhere and they grow vegetables and they have a couple of chickens and a cow.”

“Fast Food Nation” is scheduled to debut in U.S. theaters this fall.

As filmmakers first approached Schlosser about a movie version, the expectation was that it would become a documentary. When the author hooked up with Linklater, it was Schlosser who suggested they transform it into dramatic form.

The result is a far-flung tale that meanders from the boardroom of Mickey’s to the U.S.-Mexico border, where immigrants cross illegally and find hazardous work in the company’s meat-processing plant, which is prone to mutilating accidents with machinery.

Schlosser said he hopes there will be a follow-up documentary someday based on “Fast Food Nation,” but that the spirit of the book initially was best served in a fictionalized adaptation.

“It was a very bold idea. It was not an obvious idea, and I feel as though the film’s made completely independent of the Hollywood system, and therefore could have some integrity. All the documentary ideas somehow felt like there would be compromises,” Schlosser said. “So the most unlikely way to approach the book ultimately felt like the truest way.”