"Food, Inc." isn't as controversial or rabble-rousing as say, "Fahrenheit 9/11," nor is it as entertaining as "Super Size Me," but carves a place for itself somewhere between them as a credible but certainly not unbiased, entertaining but not gimmicky visual essay. "Food, Inc." is not without its moments of humor, but it functions more as a learning aid than a piece of pop entertainment, which is in equal doses refreshing and trying.
The film is divided into distinct chapters that focus on stories illustrating one of the many evils of America's industrial food system and its benefactors, who in the opinion of the filmmakers are more worried about the safety of their profit margins than the safety of their products, employees, or customers. Their argument is bolstered by the testimonials of those affected by corporate negligence, like a lobbyist whose child was killed by tainted meat, experts including the authors of "Fast Food Nation" (Eric Schlosser), and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (Michael Pollan), evidence in the form of first-hand interviews with farmers impacted by corporate mingling, and more alarming statistics than you can shake a Big Mac at.
The film isn't all doom and gloom, however, and while the final moments feel plucked from Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" powerpoint, "Food, Inc." whittles the issue down to a personal level, recommending that we pay a little more for organic, locally grown food, attend farmers' markets, and be more conscientious about what we put in our bodies. It reads like a politician's pie-in-the-sky stump speech (a little corny, if you'll pardon the pun), backed by "This Land is Your Land" (come on), but the message really can't be undersold. It is up to each and every one of us, but I'm still a little too jaded to walk away from "Food, Inc." with any degree of optimism.
From a design standpoint, "Food, Inc." isn't a terribly innovative film, and its successes are nearly all stacked in its content column rather than its craft. Most of the information is delivered via unceremonious on-screen text or talking heads, and the characters are generally quarantined to their respective chapters. However, these gripes are made acceptable and even forgettable because the text is (usually) fascinating, and the talking heads have a lot to say.
"Food, Inc." is getting a lot of critical "Required Viewing" stamps, which it deserves, but merely because it's the most thorough, easily digested, and immediately available piece of information on the subject around. It's not a revolutionary piece of filmmaking, but again, it doesn't have to be. It's not an incendiary masterpiece that'll blow your mind or have you rolling in the aisles, but it may just make you reconsider your eating habits and make a concrete change to improve the world we live in, which at the end of the day is more important.