Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern and Linda Cardellini
Directed By: John Lee Hancock
Running Time: 115 minutes
The Weinstein Company
Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars
A hyper charismatic Michael Keaton drags a pair of wholesome Americans into a deal that they soon regret. No, it’s not Beetlejuice, but rather John Lee Hancock’s The Founder, the true story of the man responsible for making McDonalds the global franchise it is today. Director Hancock is no stranger to selling shrewd businessman stories having previously helmed the Disney-pursues-Mary Poppins pic Saving Mr. Banks. Like Mr Banks, The Founder relies on how charmingly its entrepreneur can overtake a profitable concept from its hesitant creators. In this respect, The Founder zips along on the boundless energy that Keaton infuses into Ray Kroc.
It’s hard to imagine America without the golden arches of McDonald’s. It’s a vision that not even the franchise’s namesake brothers had foreseen when the wily Mr.Kroc rolled up to their booming San Bernadino burger stand in 1955 to sell his milk shake mixers. Here the brothers, Dick and Mac (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) devised the fast food kitchen as we know it, breaking away from the slower drive-ins of the day. Traveling salesman Kroc has had more than his fair share of drive in frustrations–slow carhops, wrong orders, cumbersome trays–and knows an opportunity when he sees one. “Franchises!” he enthuses to stoney faces of Offerman and Lynch. They prefer quality over quantity. What the McDonalds don’t know about Kroc is he falls asleep to the recorded mantra “nothing is as powerful as persistence.” Which he has in spades.
Despite Kroc’s triumph Hancock does not give Ray a pass on his swindling ways. Played by Michael Keaton (accompanied by his thematically appropriate arched eyebrows), Kroc is a magnetic presence to be sure and like many cinematic villains, fun as hell to watch work. However, the perfectly cast Offerman and Lynch are infinitely more sympathetic. Aesthetically they’re the stoic hound dogs to the fox in the henhouse that is Keaton. John Carroll Lynch specifically tugs on the heart strings multiple times as he watches his family’s vision slip out from under them. A trauma great enough to hospitalize him at one point. And if that weren’t enough, a sulking supporting turn by Laura Dern as Kroc’s first wife, Ethel, goes a long way to showing what an exhaustive personality her husband has always been without the film needing to delve much into his backstory.
Viewing this film from 2016 makes Kroc’s success in his endeavors a foregone conclusion but to Hancock’s credit, he keeps the burger flipping and legal gymnastics interesting. He manages to condense the McDonalds’s “overnight success thirty years in the making” in one balletic montage that really showcases the ingenuity of the brothers in designing their “speedee service model”. In a world where the fast food assembly line is omnipresent, it is somewhat heartening to see the genuine human element and efforts that went into its inception. That the fruits of said efforts were ultimately swiped by a ‘founder’ who hadn’t founded anything luckily let me get right back to regretting the dubious influence the fast food trend had on the dietary habits of millions…but hey, did I mention how much fun it is to watch Michael Keaton?