Review: The Founder
Beginning in the 1950s, this is the story of how struggling salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) took a humble family hamburger joint run by the McDonald Brothers (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) and saw dollar signs and franchise opportunities. However, the manner in which he managed to attach himself to the business and eventually loosen the Brothers’ grip on it, was questionable to say the least. Laura Dern plays Kroc’s long-suffering wife, Patrick Wilson plays a restauranteur, with Linda Cardellini his flirty wife.
I assure you that my review of this 2016 biopic will not come with any family-related bias (although I do/did actually have a Ronald in my extended family). Directed by John Lee Hancock (the borderline terrible “The Blind Side”, the excellent “Saving Mr. Banks”), this is the irresistible story of Ray Kroc, the man who turned a family burger joint in the 1950s into the fast food franchise we know today as McDonald’s. Say what you will about the quality of the food (I’m not sure anyone genuinely loves it), but it serves a definite purpose/need and most of us have had a purpose/need for it at certain point in our lives I’m sure. I’ve certainly partaken in it many times over the years (Even if I prefer KFC- sorry!). I may not seriously be family, but I’m certainly well-acquainted with the fast food chain, and was interested in finding out the story behind its journey into becoming the place of the Golden Arches (Not the Golden Arcs, that’s McDowell’s, home of the ‘Big Mick’).
Michael Keaton has always been one of my favourite actors, and an incredibly versatile one too. Although I wasn’t the hugest fan of “Birdman” or “Spotlight” (they’re both fine, just overrated), I’ve been glad to see his career having its second wind. The young Michael Keaton could play an ambitious, ruthless slickster in his sleep, and here the not-so young Keaton has zero troubles playing it, either. Actually, at times this guy isn’t so slick at all, nor does he start out terribly successful. He’s about a step up from Willy Loman, if you ask me, but Keaton’s Ray Kroc certainly seems to think he’s slick, and he’s certainly slicker than some of the people he’s dealing with. Kroc’s not exactly a bad guy, but he’s certainly not a great guy, and he gets worse the longer the film goes on. It’s interesting that the film makes sure to note that early on it’s not Kroc wanting to slacken of with the consistency and quality of the product. It’s just that when he starts to franchise the restaurant, he isn’t able to keep tabs on all the managers, their staff, and business practices. Even when he basically sells his soul to a cunning money man (B.J. Novak), you can actually understand where Kroc is coming from. The McDonald Brothers’ contract stifles him and all he’s doing is trying to work around that. However, directly or indirectly, Ray Kroc seems to have turned American values into franchised fast food and polystyrene, and in doing what Kroc eventually does it has a really poor side effect on the McDonald Brothers. Kroc isn’t Satan though, just your run-of-the-mill ruthless jerk driven by profit. You really feel sorry for the McDonald Brothers though, played by the perfectly cast John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman (who play off each other wonderfully well). These guys were sweethearts, and Kroc simply isn’t like them, and won’t do things in anyone’s best interest than his own.
Admittedly, playing Kroc’s ignored wife isn’t the best use of Laura Dern, but we do get a movie-stealing turn by Linda Cardellini as Wilson’s flirty wife. She’s never been better or hotter, and steals her every moment. Yowza. Yep, she deserves a Yowza. Scripted by Robert D. Siegel (the terrific “The Wrestler”, the idiotic “Turbo”), I don’t know that this is a great film, but it’s an irresistible and enjoyable one with top performances. Hell, even Patrick Wilson is fine.