Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Justin Randell Brooke, Kate Kneeland
The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world with a combination of ambition, persistence, and ruthlessness. (Source: IMDb)
Since his award-winning turn in Birdman (2014), Michael Keaton has become hot property, going on to star in last year’s Best Picture winner Spotlight (2016) in a stunning ensemble cast. Whilst excellent in Spotlight, it was the nature of the story that it was never going to be one person’s film, so it is great to see Keaton back in a leading role, in biopic The Founder.
Offering a fascinating insight into a perhaps previously unknown story about one of the most known and recognised brands in the world, The Founder tells the story of salesman Ray Kroc (Keaton) and how he propelled a humble local burger business into a global empire. With a pioneering “Speedee System”, providing customers with a delicious burger from grill to bag in 30 seconds, the small business of brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, proved a tasty temptation to Kroc, a milkshake machine salesman, tired and dejected after years of rejection and setbacks. Whilst his interest in the McDonald brothers business begins in a place of genuine admiration and desire to help them succeed, he soon becomes greedy, power mad, and consumed by a cut-throat ruthlessness.
Michael Keaton is on wonderful form as always; it is a difficult character to play as you have to spend so much time with him, yet he is in many ways so incredibly unlikeable. However, Keaton exudes a natural charm which results in Kroc being simultaneously likeable and abhorrent in equal measure, and it is difficult to take your eyes off him. Keaton is a wonderfully physical performer, and his facial expressions and body language subtly change over the course of the film as the character becomes more and more powerful.
The McDonald brothers are played sympathetically and honestly, and their plight is still felt even though Keaton’s Kroc is very much the focus of the story. Nick Offerman was particularly wonderful as the uptight Dick, and whilst some of the laughs perhaps come at his expense, there is an emotion and a passion behind his eyes which means you can’t help but feel sorry for him as well. John Carroll Lynch is also great, and there’s a believable brotherly dynamic between them that is surprisingly sweet in places.
The story is interesting and whilst there’s notes of The Social Network (2010), it lacks a little bit of the bite that that had. It is in some ways a “Disney-fied” version of David Fincher’s Facebook film, perhaps appropriate as director John Lee Hancock had previously directed the very warm and very fuzzy Saving Mr Banks (2013). This isn’t a critcism per se, and The Founder should be applauded for doing something a little different when there is a very obvious comparison piece.
Outside of Ray Kroc and the McDonald brothers, the rest of the characters were a little underdeveloped. Laura Dern was great with the very little she had to do, but the breakdown of their relationship was quite poorly handled. Whilst there were hints that all was not well throughout, her character wasn’t given much dignity in their parting, despite being very obviously patient and supportive of Ray in the early days of his endeavours.
The supporting characters were also fairly interchangeable and were barely given a moment, which was curious as the closing epilogue reveals some minor characters actually ended up having very major roles to play in the business. Whilst the run-time was just about right, it would have been nice to see some further character development beyond the main three, perhaps in place in some parts of the story which were a little repetitive in the middle section.
I saw this movie and you should too. It’s not perfect, but Keaton’s performance makes it a fascinating and interesting watch, and it is a great insight into a story which perhaps many would not be familiar with. If you’ll excuse the food puns, it is very easy to digest, perhaps lacking in a little bit of kick, but on the whole a satisfying watch.