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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Fast Food Nation

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Fast Food Nation”
Rated R
2006

Modern American life got grilled over an open flame in 2006’s “Fast Food Nation” — an unlikely blend of Eric Schlosser’s journalism and director Richard Linklater’s ear for conversational, plainspoken fiction. Told as an ensemble piece, “Nation” listed the ingredients of all that’s really processed in a burger’s patty — pieces of ethics, dreams and morals ground up with the chuck.

An executive (Greg Kinnear) embarks on a fact-finding mission for fast-food joint Mickey’s, in whose new product flecks of feces have been found. Meanwhile, middle-class counter jockeys in the Southwest ponder the pecking order, and illegal immigrants endure abhorrent conditions in meatpacking plants.

“Nation” is occasionally disgusting and disturbing, but doesn’t merely settle for an oversimplified, damning indictment of the fast-food industry as ugly industry tainting beautiful land. Instead, Linklater and Schlosser’s commentary proves caustic and comprehensive.

It’s about empty calories and empty living — the ridiculous insistence that all kids see playing time regardless of on-field performance, the absurdity of porn as background noise, the simple-activist ideal that revolution can start in rec rooms and the woozy lure of neon-lit strip malls.

The duo also understands that a handful of the system’s symptoms aren’t altogether bad, namely in layered exchanges between Kinnear and Bruce Willis (brash and quick-witted as a Mickey’s meat liaison). Sterility and safety are important to business, but how do we innovate and learn from mistakes if they’re the rule?

As one wicked metaphor aptly goes, we all have to eat a little shit from time to time.

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