There isn’t any brilliant filmmaking here, Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) doesn’t land the performance of the year.
“The Founder” instead works as a pure interest story, shedding light of the history of America’s most popular restaurant, McDonald’s. John Lee Hancock is known for such family feelers as “Saving Mr. Banks” (exposing Walt Disney, it was a commercial and critical flop), and Oscar winning “The Blind Side.” Hancock brings a traditional feel to all his movies, no fancy camera work, actors in roles that seem familiar with their sensibilities. As much as The Weinstein Company had hoped “The Founder” would be an Oscar contender, similar to their race horse “Gold,” starring Matthew McConaughey, Keaton would be the film’s only play and it just isn’t an exceptional performance.
Ray Kroc (Keaton) is a business-to-business salesman in 1954, currently peddling milk shake machines, he is middle aged, overworked and unhappy. When a San Bernardino restaurant owned by brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) order 8 of his machines, the curiosity gets the best of Kroc and he drives halfway across the country to see what kind of restaurant could use that many at once. It’s called McDonalds, and the key to their success is speed. Kroc is welcomed inside by the McDonald brothers, shown their system and all he can think is dollar signs and franchise. They sign a deal and contract, skeptical that this businessman from Illinois is going to undercut their quality, but they are completely unprepared for Kroc’s persistence and determination.
Just because a film isn’t Oscar-worthy doesn’t mean it isn’t fascinating. “The Founder” is just stuck in the wrong release date. Had it opened any other time of the year it might have had a chance to be a bigger hit. At some point, we have all stepped foot inside those nasty fast food chains stuck on every corner.
“The Founder” takes the audience through a compelling story that explains how a nice and neat, healthy and quality-focused restaurant became the most disposable junk food on the planet thanks to one man. When Kroc explains to the brothers that McDonald’s is “the new American church” they should have suspected his motives. Told in a very straightforward manner, all eyes are on Keaton and his gradual transformation into ruthlessness.
It’s not a performance that wows like he did in “Birdman,” but Keaton is the glue of the film, he gets all the good lines and scenes. It’s essentially a biopic or Kroc and not a McDonald’s movie. Offerman and Lynch are great as the honest McDonald brothers, but they get cutaway scenes while Laura Dern, playing Kroc’s wife, gets even less. In many ways, Robert D. Siegel’s script feels like a documentary adapted into a narrative and for the most part it works, never becoming dull thanks to the subject matter and the choice scenes. The Coen Brothers might have delivered a more interesting treatment of this project, however they abandoned it for “Hail, Ceaser.” With heavier cynicism and darker comedy, “The Founder” could have been a more unique experience.
Final Thought — Not an awards film but a fascinating story behind America’s most famous fast food restaurant.