THE FOUNDER (USA/12A/115mins)
Directed by John Lee Hancock. Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, BJ Novak
In 1954, as he struggled to make a living from selling milkshake machines to diners, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) stumbles across a fast food stand called McDonald’s, run by brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald. Kroc was so impressed by the McDonald brothers’ revolutionary fast food concept that he joined the company with a view to franchising across the US. It was not long, however, before Kroc had some ideas of his own, ideas that the McDonald brothers were not fans of.
THE VERDICT: ‘The Founder’ is a fascinating look behind the scenes of McDonald’s, a company that was started to be a family establishment, and which the McDonald brothers did not want to expand far. How the company went on to be a global brand is a fascinating one, and the story of the man who made this happen, is a careful look at am ambitious and persistent man ruthlessly getting what he wants.
Michael Keaton leads the cast as the charming, tenacious and slightly eccentric Ray Kroc. Keaton’s performance is truly remarkable, as Kroc is a man who draws audience sympathy throughout the first half of the film, but becomes repugnant as times goes on. The genius of Keaton’s performance is that it is not easy to pinpoint when this change happens, which makes Kroc an intriguing and repellent character. Nick Offerman plays Dick McDonald as a gentle but business savvy man who, as it becomes clear, has more of an emotional attachment to the franchise that bears his name than ta first thought. John Carroll Lynch makes Mac McDonald a lot more outgoing, cheery and affable than his brother, but there is a vulnerability to both men that makes them relatable, and has the audience rooting for them almost from the off. The rest of the cast features Laura Dern, B.J. Novak and Patrick Wilson.
Robert D. Siegel’s screenplay is an examination of capitalism, charm and ruthlessness. The setting just so happens to be McDonald’s, as this is a true story, but it so easily could be set in any business at all. The film is carefully written to show Ray Kroc in his best and worst lights, and get the audience on side with the rather naïve and vulnerable McDonald brothers from the start. The dialogue is strong, although there are times when the film’s intrigue flags, and it is not always clear whose story we are watching; Kroc’s or McDonald’s.
Director John Lee Hancock has told overly sentimental stories in the past – I am looking at you, The Blind Side – but he manages to make ‘The Founder’ a tale of tenacity and greed, that shows Ray Kroc rather like a boulder rolling downhill toward the unsuspecting McDonald brothers. The performances in the film are exquisite, with Keaton, Carroll Lynch and Offerman doing career best work, but the pacing and dramatic build of the film is not always as engrossing as it should be.
In all, ‘The Founder’ is a fascinating and horrifying tale of the all-American brand that took over the world, from humble beginnings as a family business. Michael Keaton, John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman are wonderful, the script strong, and there are some beautifully shot moments throughout the film, although there are also times when the pacing and dramatic flow of ‘The Founder’ is not quite right. That said, ‘The Founder’ is intriguing and horrifying, and Keaton makes this small story one of life and death.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    The Founder takes a peak behind the curtain of fast food mega corporation McDonalds, for an origin story that was built on the American Dream – albeit one that was later appropriated by someone else.

    Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a travelling salesman in 1958, peddling multi-purpose milkshake machines to drive-in diners and other restaurants. He’s not having much success, until an order for a large number of machines comes in for a restaurant in San Bernardino, California. Thinking it’s a mistake, he heads out there. On arrival, he discovers a place called McDonalds, a family-run burger joint headed up by Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and his brother Mac (John Carroll Lynch). Ray is immediately taken with their business model – automated food preparation from a simplified menu which speeds up orders and delivers big money. This revolutionary model becomes Ray’s sole obsession. Desperate to franchise the business, he convinces the brothers McDonald to sign over the franchise rights. Ray starts building the McDonald’s empire across the midwest, making changes along the way headed up by franchisees Rollie (Patrick Wilson) and Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini). As Ray’s empire grows, friction results with the McDonald brothers…

    Working from a script by Robert D. Siegel, director John Lee Hancock has fashioned a good ol’ story about the American Dream and how it’s compromised by that pesky necessity – capitalism and the need for more. There are shades of Hancock’s previous film, Saving Mr Banks, here. Replace P.L. Travers with the McDonald Brothers and Walt Disney with Ray Kroc and you have another story about persuasion and the power of persistence – something which Kroc himself refers to in the film. It’s a fascinating insight into how a small family-run business in smalltown California can be assimilated into something much larger. A business that has since become one of the world’s most instantly recognisable brands.

    The two contrasting storylines here – that of the McDonald brothers and Ray Kroc – result in a role reversal as the story progresses. The brothers shrink into insignificance, as Ray takes a decidedly non-committal approach to his contract. His dreams are bigger, but to do so he has to gradually shove the brothers out of the bigger picture. It’s to Keaton’s credit that Kroc never comes across as the bad guy here. Yes, what Kroc did was is in some ways questionable – but that’s just business. Money talks. Keaton injects his trademark energetic quirkiness into Kroc, making him simply an opportunist who ran with his opportunity until it went national and then global. Offerman and Lynch, both established and solid character actors, convey the humanity of the brothers as their business is consumed by a much larger machine.

    While the first half of the film is on fairly ordinary ground, it’s later that the film really comes into its own. That’s where the film gains an extra star, thanks to its divergent theme of real estate and empire building. It becomes a realistic portrait of how the American Dream really works behind that wizard’s curtain. An intriguing film, more nourishing than its subject. ****