Director: John Lee Hancock
Run Time: 115 minutes
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern
Plot (taken from IMDb): 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.
Much like the restaurant it’s based on, The Founder feels at times overly clean but still somewhat messy. The tale of the worldwide success and phenomenon of McDonald’s and the people behind it is utterly fascinating, and The Founder is spearheaded by an incredible performance from Michael Keaton, but the film falls a little flat thanks to basic presentation.
At the centre of the film we find Michael Keaton as ruthless salesman-cum-hustler Ray Kroc. More than the story of how McDonald’s took over America, The Founder is about Ray Kroc. A salesman who couldn’t catch a break until he discovered McDonald’s for himself. Run by Dick and Mac McDonald (played excellently by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch respectively), this humble little establishment, that offered consumers simple cheeseburgers and fries, didn’t know what hit it when Mr. Kroc walked up and ordered a meal. In a highly nostalgic scene that would have Kroc spinning in his grave with glee, the simple premise of McDonald’s was sold. Kroc sees a small family enjoying a McDonald’s meal. The order process is simple but very effective and extremely fast. It’s like a corny advert for 1950s McDonald’s.
Kroc wasn’t there by chance, however. He was there to sell five-spindle milkshake makers. Unlike the normal one machine that most places would buy, the booming success of McDonald’s meant the two brothers required eight. Ray Kroc decided there and then that he had to be a part of the success at McDonald’s: “Franchise, franchise, franchise” he told them. This was the big break he needed. His wife was becoming increasingly annoyed at his late nights and days spent away from home on the road. We see that the couple’s relationship was sailing in rocky waters. He really needed something big to happen.
In a series of scenes we are shown via flashbacks and documentary-style images the early history of McDonald’s. Everything from how they set up their workspace to exactly what they served was planned in excruciating detail. Like Kroc, the McDonald brothers were fed up of drive-thrus with poor service and slow waits for your food. They decided to do something about it. These scenes show a film that doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be. Does it want to tell the story in great detail, or take you through it at a pace? It kind of settles somewhere in the middle, leaving you wanting more from the film upon its conclusion. Throughout you’ll find yourself enthralled by the tale, only to be let down by a slightly unclear and messy delivery.
There’s nothing wrong with the acting. Keaton’s performance as Ray Kroc is unbelievably good. He’s cool, collected and calculated. As the film develops, so too does Keaton’s performance. He starts off as a confident man down on his luck, but as his manipulation of the McDonald’s franchise begins to succeed, you see his ego grow into something unholy. Whether delivering talks to schmooze fellow businessmen, laying off jokes or sharing brutal discussions with lawyers and the now downtrodden McDonald’s brothers (who had their business taken away from them), Keaton is on fire. It’s a spectacular performance in an otherwise unspectacular film. Everyone performs admirably, but I’d like to point out Nick Offerman’s performance as very good too. He is great as the more business-minded McDonald brother and deserves more attention as an actor.
I found the cinematography and score to be forgettable. Neither added much to the film and the brightly lit nostalgic looks at what McDonald’s used to be felt too corny. The Founder grabs you and takes you for a fairly fast-paced whistle-stop tour of the history of the development of McDonald’s, but it never looks or sounds inventive whilst doing so. The film has a basic look to it. The image is crisp and clear, but it never tries too hard to be different. Despite a decent script that lets you understand the characters and their individual situations, you will be left wanting to know just a little more about everything and everyone – I would’ve liked a little more time spent with the McDonald’s brothers in the film’s second and third acts for example.
This might be an issue with how interesting the story of McDonald’s is, however. The Founder does a good job at telling the story of ruthless salesman Ray Kroc and Michael Keaton does an extremely good job at portraying him. I didn’t love the film at first but haven’t stopped thinking about the story since. It really is fascinating. Like the restaurant itself, The Founder may feel a little bland, but the story behind it is anything but.
The Founder features a brilliant story excellently spearheaded by an in-form Michael Keaton all played out in an, unfortunately, bland and slightly messy fashion.