Celebrated American independent filmmaker Richard Linklater (“Before Sunset” & “School of Rock”) teams-up with investigative journalist Eric Schlosser for this curious docudrama, adapted from the latter’s muckraking expose of the same name, which premiered in competition at the 59th Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
Up-and-coming marketing director Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) is sent down to Texas to check-out possible contaminants in the meat, where he encounters disillusioned young burger bar waitress Amber (Ashley Johnson) and illegal Mexican worker Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who reveal the dark side of the industry through their personnel stories.
Greg Kinnear (“Little Miss Sunshine” & “Auto Focus”) puts in a strong central performance which holds much of the first half of the film together before he is unceremoniously shunted off to make way for the truly magnificent Catalina Sandino Moreno and a breakthrough performance from former child star Ashley Johnson in a far less focused second half.
A highly eclectic supporting cast headed by directorial favourite Ethan Hawke in a key, but curiously forced, role includes star turns from Patricia Arquette, Luis Guzmán and Paul Dano, as well as heavyweights Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Willis, not to mention Canadian pop starlet Avril Lavigne, in a variety of preachy “Waking Life” style monologues and “Slacker” style subplots.
The filmmakers draw heavily from the director’s previous work in creating a format for this curious piece of agitprop which somewhat uncomfortably attempts to combine elements of documentary, including truly disturbing abattoir footage, and drama, with some stories given short shrift, into a semi-cohesive plot line without entirely losing the message.
The film will most definitely put you off grabbing a burger for a while after you’ve seen the grisly goings on in the final descent to the kill floor and in this aspect I guess it was a success but far less well done was the dramatic element with character arcs left painfully incomplete in what can only be assumed to be indicative of the reality of modern American society.
“The truth is we all have to eat a little shit from time to time.”