The Founder: Film Review
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardinelli, Patrick Wilson
Director: John Lee Hancock
A prime slice of business ethics and an attempt at a semi-biographical piece of McDonald's early life, The Founder is once again Michael Keaton's award nomination spotlight.
Keaton is Ray Kroc, a travelling salesman and a veritable magpie of a man when it comes to what he thinks are good ideas. But often, his gambles fail - as testified to by his terse wife played by Laura Dern who simply wants a normal life and to spend evenings at the club. When he gets an order for 6 multi-mix milkshake machines, he assumes it's an error and contacts the buyers.
But it turns out those buyers are Dick and Mac McDonald (Parks and Rec star Offerman and American Horror Story's Carroll-Lynch), a pair of good ole boys running a burger joint. Kroc heads to the joint to take in the operation - and sees a potential money-spinner in front of him.
However, the MacDonald brothers are principled and work under their own sets of rules and ethics; believing expansion could denigrate their brand, they resist Ray's attempts to jostle into the takeaway industry. But Kroc's dogged persistence pays off - and he begins to expand and build an empire...
But at what cost?
The Founder is in no way a love letter to McDonald's.
It's a serving of unscrupulous behaviour and questionable morality - and aside from one early sequence that dishes up nostalgia in the form of the McDonald brothers starting their empire does it leave you hankering for a fast food fix.
Much like the junk food itself, The Founder promises much but fails to deliver much nutrition.
Kroc's avarice is well documented by Keaton; and to be fair, there's never an attempt to portray him as anything more than a complete asshat, who appears to have run roughshod over any who oppose his desires. Simply put, in Keaton's hands (and to a lesser extent director John Lee Hancock), Kroc's story is solely about getting what he wants, consequences and people be damned.
The film's gentle and genial beginnings give way to a sense of flatlining as the tale goes on over two hours as narrative threads wither worse than a pickle left out in the sun for days.
Dern's wife is afforded scant characterisation and is wasted; and Wilson and Cardinelli float in as Rollie and Joan Smith (the latter of whom Kroc ended up marrying) but their burgeoning relationship is sketched over with little more than a few looks suggesting the big bad wolf in Kroc. Offerman and Carroll Lynch start off strongly as the McDonald brothers, whose fraternal bond is forged and deepened over fries. But they waft away in the film and even Offerman's nuanced and rarely seen dramatic turn can't save them from feeling like piecemeal offerings in the overall story.
It's moments like these which feel like The Founder's floundered its initial promise and premise.
Granted, there are times when Keaton's performances trumps all but the lack of emotional investment into proceedings and the under-playing of the ethical clashes mean this drama unfortunately has little to offer at the cinematic dinner table.