Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 9th, 2009
You'll never look at dinner the same way again.
Taking a peek behind the curtain to see where your hamburgers are coming from, Food, Inc. delves deep into the...er, seedy, underworld of industrialized food production.
Director Robert Kenner peels back the layers of the national food industry, examining the entire process, from "seed to supermarket." What he finds is an interconnected web of corporate strong-arming, mildly distasteful ground beef fillers, shifty soybean manipulation, successful organic yogurt companies, fat kids, and -- shockingly! -- a sympathetic view of Wal-Mart.
Food, Inc. is a great documentary, perhaps not as existence-redefining as some of the hype would have you believe, but definitely worth your time. Like any good documentary, the film treats its subject matter fairly and without overblown hyperbole. There is plenty to get upset about, but Kenner keeps his tale grounded, which makes the revelations even more impactful. He lets the stuff that happens in front of the lens speak for itself, and what Food, Inc. has to say is important.
Now, I am about as far from crunchy as you can get and typically treat exercises in Speaking Truth to Power with apprehension -- though this release appeals to me. There were moments that struck me as a little off -- for example, the Stonyfield Farms CEO pinning all of the world's problems on businesses -- but they were few and far between. The bulk of Kenner's case is made with an even tone and his decision not to go graphic with slaughterhouse footage for cheap shocks is laudable. All the jump scares here have to do with genuinely disconcerting information.
Before you scream bias, most of the big companies that get smacked around in Food, Inc. declined to be interviewed. It's not the filmmaker's fault they opted not to get their side of the story out, which perplexes me because it makes them look really, really bad. Seriously, who's doing PR for these guys?
I do have a few of criticisms. The call for cheap food has led to industrialization, but the benefits for the poor getting comestibles at bottom dollar is skimped on. There's not enough focus on personal responsibility -- Hey parents, don't want your kids getting obese? Don't pack their mouths with double cheeseburgers! -- and some of the statements the interviewees make are too far-out there, hurting the film's argument (one farmer warns that once you treat pigs poorly, it's not hard to start slaughtering people next). And corn gets a bad rap even though it seems like it's the awesomest thing ever. They use it in batteries, you know.
Food, Inc. is a great film, one that could cross ideological lines. For example, I'm fully on board with nailing big corporations for employing and exploiting illegal immigrants, and buying local is a boon to the economy. How about the shout-out Kenner gives to Wal-Mart, the arch-nemesis of hippies everywhere? The solutions Kenner proposes are essentially market-based, encouraging customers to change the way things are done with their wallet. That's something a good capitalist like me can get behind.
The Blu-ray tech treatment is Grade-A fresh, starting with the spot-on 1.78:1 1080p widescreen transfer that pushes both the cornfield scenery and the pigs wallowing in their own filth to astonishing clarity. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is clean, but doesn't have much action with its dialogue-heavy mix, although the sinister Douchebag Corporation score is nicely done. Extras are disappointing: deleted scenes, some celebrity PSAs (which might be the worst bonus feature ever), a news segment on the food industry, and a pair of healthy-eating featurettes. Where's the filmmaker commentary and making-of?
A good documentary and a fine-looking Blu-ray. Delicious and nutritious!
Not Guilty. Whoppers all around!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes