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Movie: Fast Food Nation

Director Richard Linklater

In Theaters November 17, 2006

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He is known for his gentle, Gen-X movies. Now he's taking on the American meat industry with Fast Food Nation. He talks exclusively to Xan Brooks
Richard Linklater's film Fast Food Nation ends on the killing floor, as cattle march placidly up a ramp to be slaughtered. We see them shot and shackled, sliced and diced. Grey loops of intestine come sweeping down the conveyor belt like some demented version of The Generation Game. Inside the cinema at Cannes, the audience groaned and covered their eyes.

Fast Food Nation is Linklater's filleted, fictionalised take on Eric Schlosser's 2001 bestselling exposé. The director worked with Schlosser on the script and then shot it at speed, with A-list actors (Bruce Willis, Greg Kinnear) camped out in a motel, and a Mexican slaughterhouse doubling for the abattoirs of Colorado. An outside bet for the Palme d'Or, the film marks the latest twist in a freewheeling career that has carried Linklater from the fringes of Austin, Texas to mainstream Hollywood and back again.
Schlosser strikes a more cautious note. "You say that now," he says gloomily. "Wait and see how you feel when the movie comes out." At home the author has been targeted by a website bankrolled by the food lobbies, and routinely finds his book readings disrupted by protesters. "Rightwing nuts," Linklater calls them.
... With its twitching carcasses and yellow mounds of fat, the last scene of Fast Food Nation appears expressly designed to put the viewer off meat for life. The problem is that for Linklater, a vegetarian since his 20s, it nearly had the reverse effect.

"It was the craziest situation," he says. "So many of the crew came out saying, 'I will never eat meat again.' But maybe it was all the smells. The warm blood. I swear to God it must have activated some long-dormant enzymes in my stomach, because I came out smelling a medium-rare steak, straight off the grill."

He pauses to chew metaphorically over the implications. "And wouldn't that have been the ultimate failure of this film? If it turned me into a meat eater." By this point he is looking alarmed. "I wouldn't have eaten the steak," he insists, as much to himself as to me. "But for a second there I almost could have."

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