The Founder – Movie Review
Rating: A- (Great)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures
With Saving Mr. Banks and now The Founder, John Lee Hancock appears to have found a knack for peeling away the behind-the-scenes events that shaped major American corporations. The Founder plays with our ideas of the American Dream by starting out with a man who at first seems genuine and one the audience roots for. However, the story slowly reveals Ray Kroc’s more weaselly side and that allows the film to become more than just the start of the McDonald’s Corporation. It plays with our expectations and our knowledge of the famous fast food chain and why it holds the world in such a tight grip.
Driving most of The Founder is Michael Keaton, who relishes at playing this multi-faceted entrepreneur and we see the wheels turn in his head as he attempts to transform this little hamburger joint into a franchise. John Lee Hancock and his screenwriter Robert D. Siegel almost treat the McDonald Brothers not too dissimilar to Kroc. At first, they are given equal attention and the screenplay devotes a lot of time to showing how they fine tuned their fast food service and their initial resistance to Kroc’s proposals. However, The Founder soon becomes Kroc’s story and the film almost manipulates the audience into taking his side over the McDonalds. It’s a clever screenplay in that regard, one which doesn’t play by the usual biopic rules by not showing precisely who it wants the audience to sympathise with.
Siegel also uses our knowledge of McDonald’s to the film’s advantage. By peppering in little references to the corporation’s later actions, it acts a lot like a comic book movie when it throws in little nods to the paneled pages. These are genuinely funny pieces of dialogue that also work in making one wonder how correct Ray Kroc was. On the one hand, the way he pushed the McDonalds out was crummy and yet, a lot of his ideas of how to run the franchise played a major role in its domination. There’s a strange satisfaction at seeing Kroc succeed at opening the various branches and the screenplay does not shy away from the difficulties that came from getting other partners involved.
The Founder most falters in depicting the loves of Ray Kroc’s life. With the need to focus on McDonald’s and the battle with the founders, they are pushed to the wayside. Laura Dern is given nothing to do as Kroc’s wife Ethel and writing her out would have probably helped the pacing more. Linda Cardellini as his second love also merely exists in the narrative to get some plot points moving forward, but their romance is barely explored. Like the McDonald brothers, they are pushed aside so the story can focus on Ray Kroc. That’s a fitting route for the biopic of a man who made sure all of the attention was paid primarily at him.
The Founder is not a lovey-dovey portrait of the founding of McDonald’s. Even as it praises Mac and Richard McDonald for how they streamlined the food serving process and Ray Kroc for how he made it the mega-corporation that stands tall today, The Founder is really about the little messy events that helped it succeed at the American Dream. Michael Keaton digs his teeth into the part and has fun playing with our expectations of how to possibly root for this man. The story of how this empire was born is directed in such a fascinating way, one wishes other studios will one day jump on the bandwagon and make films about the beginnings of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy’s, too.