I don’t eat at McDonald’s. I haven’t eaten there since I was about 8 or 9, but I understand for some that it is a food institution, and it has been for nearly 60 years. As such surely it is time for Hollywood to document the rise of the golden arches.
The Founder is a biographical film that follows Ray Kroc, played by Michael Batman/Birdman Keaton, the self-proclaimed founder of the McDonalds Corporation. The film shows how Kroc went from a milkshake machine salesmen to the man who stole the concept of McDonald’s from the McDonald Brothers, Mac and Dick.
The film is directed by John Lee Hancock, who has made a name for himself with another big biopic Saving Mr Banks, that dealt with the relationship between Walt Disney and the creator of Mary Poppins, P.L Travers. Similalry, The Founder was written by the screenwriter of the 2008 smash, The Wrestler, Robert D. Seigel. The script is witty and very quickly paced, there is a lot to get through here in the film, and it is greatly helped by a lot of engaging montages as Kroc builds the McDonald’s franchise and employees franchises.
It is clear that the film is well crafted with a high pedigree behind the camera. There is a brightness to the cinematography, a friendliness to it and there is a great use of colour.
I was worried going into that this film it would just be a thinly veiled advert for McDonald’s; I got even more worried when the brothers told their story with plinky guitar music in the background, but it is not. It is more of a factual account of the creation of the McDonald’s brand, and each of the players involved in that creation feels more real that a paid for publicity image. There was a problem I had with Hancocks previous biopic; I thought that it felt disingenuous as it was a film about Walt Disney made by the Disney Corporation. However The Founder doesn’t really suffer from that fault.
Despite the film being highly enjoyable and creatively edited it does have the occasional problem. it is a little tonally confused; it is clear that Ray Kroc is cut from the same cloth as Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood. There are scenes where he is clearly in the wrong, but the filmmakers seem to pull their punches a little, always including little moments where we feel sympathy for a cut throat businessman. Similarly, it has been said by RogerEbert.com that the film relies too much on exposition rather than story, this may be true, due to the length of time, but Keaton and the rest of the cast do such a great job with the material that the amount of exposition becomes irrelevant.
The cast is mindblowing. Michael Keaton should play more villains; he is devilishly fun as Kroc as he lends the right mix of cunning, deviousness, ruthlessness and persistence. The best thing about the performance is that, if you haven’t seen the trailers, his transformation from enthusiastic salesman to Machiavellian entrepreneur is a slow and surprising one. The backing cast is also brilliant. Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman as Richard “Dick” McDonald and John Carroll Lynch from Fargo and Zodiac as Maurice “Mac” McDonald, along with Laura Dern, “better known as Dr Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park” as Ray Kroc’s wife, provide a grounding and are the emotional core as their lives are ripped apart by an entirely self-serving Kroc. In fact, all three characters have the most impactful scenes, and while Keaton’s Kroc is loud and egotistical, their entirely defeat is the most heart-rending.
It is a highly entertaining, look at the psyche of America. The vibrant colours belie a profoundly selfish individual who sacrifices the core family values of McDonald’s for a quick buck. But Michael Keaton makes Ray Kroc a man that you love to hate.