Movie Review: The Founder
Dir: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Patrick Wilson, BJ Novak
What’s it about:
The story of how salesman Ray Kroc (Keaton) made his multi-billion continent-spanning empire and built one of the world’s best known and recognised brands: McDonald’s.
Persistence. It’s a word you’ll remember long after the film ends. The 1950s were not kind to American salesmen and a firm faith in the germ of an idea — in a series of many, the only one to actually work — is what got Kroc the keys to the kingdom.
That’s at the heart of this story. A good product that doesn’t go big, distribution-wise, remains simply that. You need the vision, the drive, the belief in something bigger than yourself (yes, even if that sounds like marketing bluster) to be great, to be remembered long after you pass from this life.
And Kroc doesn’t let his limitations hold him back. Keaton, who plays the title role, puts in a consistently good, remarkably restrained performance that’s probably not on par with a Birdman, let’s say, but will still win him hearts, new fans and dare I say, a few laurels.
In Keaton’s universe, everything and everyone else pales, the competent cinematography, some brilliant dialogues, Laura Dern as Kroc’s long-suffering, unambitious wife, Offerman as Dick, one of the McDonald brothers, who came up with the original business and delivery system but failed to dream big, and the even the brilliant idea of commercialising the great American dream through the family model and franchising. In that purpose – glorifying the man in the title – The Founder impresses to no end. There’s simple storytelling at its core, no flashes of technical finesse, no over-the-top performances. Everything is measured and assembled well. Like a good ol’ hot McDonald’s meal – burger, fries and Coke.
Certain things tend to irk you. Kroc goes from struggling salesman to intrepid entrepreneur to ruthless businessman through the span of the film despite his apparent shallowness. People are drawn like the flies to him and he doesn’t hesitate to trample over them with impunity. And that change seems a little jarring. The scene where he announces his divorce is so sudden (you expect it, but not in such a brutal manner), you’ll miss it if you’re distracted. You buy into Kroc’s consumerism because it is so convincing, but Hancock makes the mistake of humanizing and then demonising the guy in the span of two hours, almost as a justification for his actions.
What to do:
Watch it by all means. It’s an interesting tale of greed and ambition and a treatise on why, in business, there are no good men, and why only the rotten ones flourish.