The creation, and expansion, of McDonald’s in the 1950s is one of Western culture’s most important benchmarks. Its ramifications on the global economy have been staggering. The influence it continues to wield on a number of industries – including, of course, film – should not be played down.
Sadly, in many ways playing-down is what John Lee Hancock does with this, his third prestige middlebrow biopic in a row. As with previous leads Sandra Bullock and Emma Thompson, Hancock scores a considerable coup matching Michael Keaton to the titular “founder”, Ray Kroc; but though the actor paints endless shades with impressive facility, his director appears to have fallen asleep. It’s not just that the characterisation requires a little more corralling, more consistency – it’s worse. Hancock never truly harnesses Keaton’s natural mania, which could not only prove more entertaining but would actually justify this movie.
Again, this is a tale of major consequence. There is intermittent verve present, but nowhere near enough to elevate the storytelling to the required quality. It’s fine when Hancock, and writer Robert Siegel, are praising the McDonald brothers’ accomplishment, as in a virtuoso sales-pitch sequence early on (and as throughout, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are simply brilliant here), but there is little intent to critique Kroc’s snakelike takeover or pick apart the complex protagonist. By the end, as a warm score and warmer cinematography take you into 1970, this largely very good film just wears itself out, revealing a confused, overwhelmed emptiness at its centre.
The Founder is by and large very watchable, with a uniformly strong cast largely underused behind an under-directed Keaton. Ultimately, the filmmakers just weren’t the right people for the job – Hancock carries the same lightness of touch over from his previous films; like his star, he should’ve gone full cutthroat.
CAST: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson
DIRECTOR: John Lee Hancock
WRITER: Robert D. Siegel
SYNOPSIS: The story of how traveling salesman Ray Kroc transformed the McDonald brothers’ eatery into a groundbreaking franchise – with equal parts ambition, persistence and ruthlessness.