The Founder review: Michael Keaton makes McDonald's great again
Michael Keaton's latest offering, The Founder, is a tale you never thought you'd really care to watch, but one that is actually surprisingly good. It's about how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) outsmarted the pioneers of fastfood, Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman), and took their California hamburger restaurant to the global stage.
Americana & Capitalism
What The Founder is, at its heart, is Americana, something that's in fashion thanks to Trump's current 'Make America Great Again' wave. While the movie doesn't really pander to Trump's views on what makes America great, like banning Mexicans and Muslims, it's a supersized Big Mac meal-size serving of America.
There's plenty of American scenery as Kroc drives from town to town and a fully developed and complex lead character's pursuit of the American dream. And, of course, the golden arches that have become symbolic of the West, and, in particular, America.
Despite a fairly dull premise, the movie is redeemed by a well-written screenplay - it does as well as it could possibly do. It's what the movie neglects - Kroc's first wife (an unrewarding role for Laura Dern), Kroc's secretary (a not so fleshed out role for Kate Kneeland) and the under-explained business side of what exactly happened - that if developed alongside the main plot, would have turned the film into a real awards contender.
The movie is one large celebration of capitalism as well. Kroc goes from the hardworking American flogging everything he can just to make a living, to a ruthless businessman that sees gold in every single business opportunity, riding the gravy train of capitalism to greater heights.
Acts of greed and deception are celebrated, with the overall message being that the end justifies, if not elevates, the means. Capitalism is viewed through a similar lens, overshadowing the dubious means on which it runs by focussing instead on the profit it enables.
The movie itself
Having said that, the film itself is well worth a watch and even a re-watch. It's Michael Keaton's movie through and through. The opening of the movie, where Keaton faces the camera and gives a sales pitch to a potential customer, sets the tone for the entire movie. Late in the movie, this scene, albeit in a different setting, is revisited.
The movie gives Keaton the chance to play a two-sided character. In the first act, he's given the chance to fail. Whether it is his charm (toward his wife), selling (milkshake mixers) and getting partners on board with his plan. The second act gives him all the tools to succeed. A business partner (who turns the tide for Croc), a second wife (though this is relatively unexplored) and the exploitation of capitalism acumen (where he flourishes).
That the most vital item to the McDonald's franchise -- the burger -- is being sidelined, is nothing less than a masterstroke from director John Lee Hancock and screenwriter Robert D Siegel. The movie focuses instead on American business and capitalism, indirectly referencing incoming president Donald Trump. It ditches the parts that may have been interesting in reality but not so much on screen, such as the McDonald brothers' obsession with a uniform dining experience across the country.
All said and done, it's Kroc's personality that shines. The movie is much more concerned with his rise as a shrewd businessman, what America was like at the time he entered and how America had changed thanks to this one man. It's probably the first American corporate takeover that people all over the world now see on a daily basis.
Should you watch it?
If the movie could have done one thing better, it would have been to not throw the various McDonald's customers to the curbside. That they are reduced to mere hungry souls that just need to be fed is unfortunate. The generalisation of these customers makes it look like each and every one is as gullible as the last, which isn't the case.
Overlooking all of this, the film is a fast-paced entertainer. It's thrilling, got plenty of sides to it, has its laugh out loud moments and a fair bit of complexity which enables Keaton to shine. It's a brilliant story about a standout American business and, in the end, it does full justice to the grand, if unhealthy, empire that is McDonald's.
The Founder, at the surface may be an unlikely hit, but while it may not sell as much as those damn burgers, it sure knows how to sell a good movie. Whether you see this on the big screen or not, definitely give Ray Kroc a chance to sell you his vision.