Now on Netflix: THE FOUNDER

By at August 28, 2017 | 9:51 pm | Print

4.5 / 5 stars

The Founder Movie PosterAlthough the Weinstein Company chose to release their story of McDonald’s mastermind Ray Kroc during the annual winter freeze, that time in January and February when studios dump their lesser films, this profound biopic is far from a lesser film. The story of Kroc’s obsession with his piece of the American pie—or his fistful of fries, in this case—is exceptionally well-written and presented, a sneakily sinister tale of American progress. From its formulaic rhythms to even its choice of director, The Founder looks and feels like one kind of film. But it’s another.

On the surface, the film is a gleaming, middle-American family-friendly tale of opportunity. When Kroc, a struggling salesman, first visits the nation’s only McDonald’s location, he’s surrounded by moms and kids sighing with satisfaction as they take big bites of beef. Kroc is incredulous when the shiny young man at the counter delivers his bag of food in just seconds.

“Where do I eat it?” asks Kroc, a veteran of poorly run carhop joints. “Anywhere you want,” replies the server, selling the journeyman on a vision of freedom Kroc can hardly believe. In the title role, Michael Keaton gives off a spark of naivete that’s a gorgeous piece of acting—and one of the last innocent emotions we’ll see from the man, as Keaton evolves (or devolves) Kroc into the personality that made him legend.

The director of The Founder is John Lee Hancock, a consistently competent choice for stories of uncommon persistence like The Rookie, The Blind Side, and Saving Mr. Banks. Like fast food, these movies are predictable, go down easy, and are of varying quality. The heroes in Hancock’s films are typically likable, per the requirement of Carefully Crafted Crowd-Pleasers (speaking of fast food). The Founder looks like it should fit comfortably in Hancock’s portfolio: Kroc is portrayed as a tenacious go-getter, a big-dream entrepreneur who would have fit in perfectly in the 1990s start-up environment. You figure we’ll be rooting for a guy willing to put in the time and hard work.

Michael Keaton in The Founder

But Keaton, bringing to life a superb script by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler), gradually turns Kroc into quite a sonofabitch, willing to dump his wife, ditch his partners, and steal ideas at the drop of a hat. Keaton makes it all part of the game, almost shocked that his sense of how to get ahead would surprise anyone.

His narrative foils are just wonderful: Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonald brothers, brilliant innovators who insist on taking the high moral ground, only to find it’s got a lot less altitude than they thought. For Hancock, they build on the similar purpose served by the Sherman Brothers in Saving Mr. Banks (played by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), but the story demands far more impact here, and Hancock and Siegel’s script pay that off.

Many may remember Kroc posthumously as a philanthropist and, while that’s covered in the film with a quick note, The Founder sees the man as a crook of sorts, just a couple degrees from a true con man. The film tells us the American dream may take hard work, but the American fantasy requires a hardened soul.

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