Essentially doing for fast food what Michael Douglas did for Wall Street, Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc in The Founder, the story of McDonalds rise to dominance around the globe. We’re familiar with the story of a genius man that helped create something special and then rewarded those he worked with by pushing them out and taking sole credit for it, it’s been done in 2010’s The Social Network and 2015’s Jobs, and many others and this film is very much in the vein of those, but what sets it apart is Michael Keaton’s portrayal of American Businessman and McDonalds Corporation Founder Ray Kroc. Keaton plays Kroc as a nuanced man with insecurities about success and status, he’s a likeable dreamer jumping at the chance to invest in anything he feels can make money. We begin the story where Kroc is selling milkshake mixers to restaurants across the country, suddenly he finds himself in San Bernardino, California at a revolutionary burger stand. The film wonderfully takes its time establishing what was normal back in the early 1950’s. We see how frustrating “fast” food used to be, and when Ray Kroc makes his way to the first McDonalds, it’s interesting how many of their core concepts we’ve come to take for granted. Keaton plays these scenes with a quirky sense of wonder and awe; the audience can see the cogs turning in his head as he realizes that this is the future, and he wants to be a part of it.
John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman play Maurice “Mac” McDonald and Richard “Dick” McDonald respectively. They are the two brothers who started the first McDonalds and formulated a simple and incredibly effective way to deliver people quality food fast. Offerman plays the no-nonsense genius of the pair, and Lynch is the more trusting and sweet-natured McDonald brother who wants nothing more than seeing Richard’s dreams come into fruition. The two go into business with Kroc and it’s hard to see them get screwed over throughout the course of the film, they’re extremely likeable and endearing. One thing I think the film does wrong is Ray Kroc’s sudden villainous heel turn; he starts the film as a frustrated man trying to grow a business, and then in one scene he suddenly becomes a ruthless asshole hell-bent on making everyone he’s doing business with suffer tragically, and he does it with a smile! I wish the film took its time either setting this up better, or making Kroc more relatable with his motives.
The Founder is shot wonderfully; everything comes off as authentic to the time period the story is set in, and there’s this dreamlike quality to the locations that gets juxtaposed with the asphalt and harsh lights of the franchised McDonalds locations. It’s almost as if cinematographer John Schwartzman is visually hinting that such beautiful countryside has been invaded and corrupted by the tens of thousands of McDonalds restaurants that have popped up all over the United States. It’s the death of the good ole days, and the rise of corporate greed. I adored this nice little attention to detail.
I truly feel like The Founder is an anti-commercial for McDonalds, in the film we see glimpses of Kroc hammering in the idea that McDonalds represents family and American values, which is pretty much hammered into our heads by their marketing campaigns, but behind that positive exterior is a ruthlessness that is the antithesis of family values. Again, we’ve seen these kinds of stories told before, but Michael Keaton really makes this one special. His ticks, accent, and mannerisms give you an uneasy feeling while still making the character fascinating and distinct. He’s the kind of character that will stab you in the back while smiling just to make an extra penny for himself. He teeters on the razor thin line of believable and compelling without falling off into cartoonish and hokey. Keaton is an incredible actor that sets this film apart from all the other films we’ve seen that have similar stories and themes.
The Founder (2017) Directed by: John Lee Hancock. Written by: Robert D. Siegel. Starring: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak, Linda Cardellini
8 out of 10