Despite Michael Keaton’s presence – and usual charm – The Founder, about Ray Kroc’s transformation of a small fast food restaurant into the global phenomenon McDonald’s, is a forgettable history lesson.
It’ll come as little surprise that McDonald’s grew its international empire out of ego, opportunism and greed. What might be more interesting is the fact it began quite innocently, founded upon the wholesome family values of the McDonald brothers Dick and Mac. However, John Lee Hancock’s film follows the exploits of the fast food chain’s true godfather Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a former hit-and-miss travelling salesman who happens across the McDonald brothers’ production line burger restaurant and turns it into an international phenomenon.
Hancock gives us a crash course in the origins of McDonald’s through the abridged recollection of the brothers’ efforts over dinner with Kroc who insists their idea of “instant food” and the process to deliver it can be franchised countrywide. Lacking the entrepreneurial narcissism of their newfound “friend”, the brothers are hesitant at first but fall for the sales pitch charms of Kroc only after agreeing a contract that gives them full control of quality and business development.
The Founder captures the ugly glory of Kroc’s corporate god complex, a pleasant smile and mild manner masking his leach-like tendencies to run with other people’s ideas as if they were his own. Keaton is perfect for the role, his career filled with characters displaying shades of light and dark often simultaneously. Here he’s a likable, hard-working businessman with appreciable qualities but he’s nevertheless bloody-minded and defiantly self-serving. He takes credit for inventing McDonald’s at one point before later asking his wife for a divorce with a dismissive, throwaway remark during evening supper.
Director Hancock is building a reputation for historical biopics with The Founder following the delightful comedy-drama Saving Mr Banks about Walt Disney and his work with Mary Poppins creator P. L. Travers to bring her magical character to the screen. What this effort lacks however is the previous film’s exuberant heart. The Founder is much colder. Rightly so. But it’s less amenable as a result. And a bit forgettable.
There isn’t much substance beyond the telephoned battleground between the McDonald brothers and Kroc and so The Founder becomes a rather dull history lesson about the “golden arches”. Indeed, the two-minute story regaled by the brothers over dinner about how they discovered the restaurant’s niche, developing the “Speedee Service System” to deliver burgers at express pace, might have been a more satisfying story. Instead, The Founder is about Kroc, a shrewd businessman who became super rich. You have to give him credit for discovering a way to brand, package and profit from a product that became so successful it now feeds 1% of the world’s population. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to like it though.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Written by: Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B. J. Novak, Laura Dern
Top 10 Films reviewed The Founder on Blu-ray courtesy of Studiocanal. The film is released on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download in the UK on June 12 2017.