Three young Mexicans pay to join a group of their countrymen hoping to sneak across the US border. A devoted family man is sent south to investigate the appearance of high levels of fecal matter in his companies burgers. And a group of bored students sit around in their dorm room plotting the overthrow of world capitalism.
So begins Traffic…er…sorry…Fast Food Nation. This huge ensemble piece is so similar to Steven Soderberghs superb effort that you could be forgiven for thinking he was at the helm again. Hes not: but the equally capable Richard Linklater is.
Linklaters previous UK release, A Scanner Darkly, was a refinement of the fascinating rotoscoping technique he first used in 2001s Waking Life. After such mind boggling fare Nation seems positively mainstream. But its still trying to lay claim to a long history of left leaning attacks on the overwhelming power of US capitalism.
Nation has a lot of storylines up its sleeve, but Linklater handles the scope extremely well. Seamlessly motoring between them, he manages to invest even the most dreadful of his characters with something like humanity. Linklater passes judgement on none, and Nation comes increasingly to look like the examination of the machinery of capitalism at work rather than any small stab at big business, each person constrained by the system they operate in.
A talented cast make the most of their parts. Often the larger pieces suffer from being unable to really develop any of their characters fully, but Linklater doesnt try to do too much with each character. Adapted from Eric Schlossers novel, it manages to invest what are essentially vignettes with real warmth and humanity – even Avril Lavigne proves watchable.
Some moments of humour are a little jarring, and Greg Kinnear especially seems a bit uncertain whether to play it straight or not. But in general Fast Food Nation is an enjoyable, well paced, if slightly familiar look at the results of industry on such a large scale. One to catch.