REVIEW: “The Founder”

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The true story of a 53 year-old milkshake machine salesman who builds a fast food franchise may not come across as compelling cinema. But when that franchise is none other than McDonald’s and the salesman is as fascinating as Ray Kroc, let’s just say there is plenty there to anchor your interest.

McDonald’s has come a long way since its humble beginning in 1940. What started as a barbecue restaurant in San Bernardino, California has become a global phenomenon. Currently McDonald’s employs nearly 450,000 people and sports over 36,500 locations worldwide. They are everywhere. My wife and I even came across one while strolling down Paris’ famous Champs-Elysees? Ray Kroc’s shrewd and ambitious vision turned McDonald’s into a multi-billion dollar franchise and he barreled over anyone who got in his way.

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Ray is played by Michael Keaton, a crafty actor with plenty of variation to bring out his character’s many layers. When we first see Ray it’s 1954 and he’s peddling milkshake machines to drive-in restaurants across the midwest. Despite numerous failing business ventures he still manages a modest comfortable living with his supportive but neglected wife Ethel (Laura Dern). But contentment isn’t in Ray’s vocabulary. He firmly believes he’s one deal away from his ship coming in.

After a small California diner named McDonald’s orders six of his five-spindle multimixers a surprised Ray heads out to San Bernardino to check out their restaurant. There he meets the owners, the sociable Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and his intuitive brother Dick (Nick Offerman). Their family-ran diner is built on the idea of good food and fast service (Dick defines it as a “symphony of efficiency”). Ray immediately sees the franchise potential and persuades the reluctant brothers to let him in as their partner.

The screenplay from Robert D. Siegel (who also wrote 2008’s “The Wrestler”) was inspired by Ray Kroc’s 1977 autobiography but also an unauthorized biography. This enabled Siegel to learn the good and bad sides of this complex man. He and director John Lee Hancock move through Kroc’s story with a clear-eyed rhythm, hitting most of the high points and avoiding any lulls. They portray the businessman as both sympathetic and repulsive. Siegel himself said that after seven viewings he still didn’t know whether he liked Ray Kroc or not.

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Underneath its biopic epidermis is a surprisingly rich character study that can be as shrewd as Kroc himself and that doesn’t shy away from looking at him with a skeptical eye. It also gives Michael Keaton good material to work with. He is magnetic and endlessly charismatic, so much so that we remain glued to him even as our impression of his character sours. Offerman is also very good as is Dern. Unfortunately she gets left behind (as does a lot of the of Kroc’s personal details) in favor of the business end of the story. But you could say that’s an authentic portrayal – business before everything else.

Over the years McDonald’s has certainly changed. The food you now get is a far cry from the delicious all-beef patties we see on the McDonald brothers’ grill. And it’s funny, the same can be said for the Ray Kroc character. He’s a much different person by the end of the movie. That’s what makes “The Founder” such a fascinating watch. Sadly it hasn’t gotten much traction in theaters, but hopefully people will give it a look. It’s a great way to start the 2017 movie year.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

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29 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Founder”

  1. I do want to see this largely because of Michael Keaton and the story as I think it is fascinating as it relates to what happens when someone has a good idea and you don’t see the bigger picture leaving someone who does see the big picture and %#@$ you over.

    • It’s really, really good. Keaton is superb and he continues his wonderful resurgence. I was surprised at how much into the story I was. Very well told.

  2. I just saw and did my reviews for this movie as well. It was definitely a surprise hit for me. Very interesting story about McDonalds (never knew it). Plus, Michael Keaton was excellent in it as Ray Kroc. Good review!

    • Thanks! It was the same with me. I went in not knowing much at all about the history of the franchise. I too was surprised at how much I loved it. Look forward to reading your thoughts. Do you think Keaton’s performance is nomination-worthy? He’s so good.

  3. Great review, Keith! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. I’ll probably give it a watch as soon as it comes to my area. I had no idea what to expect of this one, especially considering it didn’t receive the Oscar attention that it probably was going for. I’m definitely more excited to check it out now, though!

    • It’s fantastic. I loved it and was so surprised by how glued to it I was. The Oscar thing is weird. For me this is 100% a 2017 movie, but it sounds like it got a little consideration for the upcoming Oscars. I wonder if enough people saw it?

  4. This moving picture brought back a lot of memories of when I met that man back in 1957. I was running that milkshake machine and he came in and me and him hit it off and we went out after work and knocked a few back. We ran out of smokes so We found some mushrooms on the side of the road and picked em and rolled em up. Then we saw em all standing there. Ronald, Grimace, hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, and the rest of the gang. That man Mr. Kroc took all them folks and made a empire with them and hung me out to dry with nothing. I ended up selling Amway products door to door for the 35 years until started working at Wal Martst as a greeter.

  5. This comes out in the UK in 2 weeks, I hope they do a wide release for it because I’m so excited! When I first heard of it I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes, but every review I’ve read has been positive. Plus, I haven’t seen Keaton since the wonderful Birdman. Great review 🙂

    • Hey thank you! I hope you get to see this one soon because it’s well worth your time. Keaton is in top form. I loved how the movie gave him such rich material to work with. Isn’t it great to see Keaton back and getting such good roles?

  6. Great review Keith. I must say this really flew under the radar for me. I expected it to be a major awards contender but I’m glad it’s finally out. And judging by both the your thoughts and the other reviews, it definitely sounds like something worth watching. Especially looking forward to Michael Keaton’s performance. I’ve really become a big fan of his since Birdman.

    • Keaton is a wonderful story. I was a huge fan of his in the 1980s and early 90s. Unfortunately his career hit a wall and he all but disappeared for a while. I think it was the RoboCop remake that actually got people noticing him again. I’m glad of that because he has always been a good actor.

      I’m assuming the super late release date hurt it when it came to awards. I’m still considering it a 2017 movie but I know the Academy calls it eligible for this year’s Oscars. It’s really a shame because Keaton deserves a nomination. He’s that good. Hope you get to see you soon.

      • Yeah I’ve seen some of his films from the 80’s like Johnny Dangerously and Beetlejuice. He’s never not interesting. And I’m still a little angry that he didn’t bag the Oscar for his outstanding work in Birdman.
        And btw saw this one today and really liked it. Couldn’t agree more on Keaton’s performance. I loved his energy. And the story itself was fascinating enough to keep me engaged throughout.

      • Glad you liked it too. You’re right, so much energy from Keaton. And who knew a fast food chain’s origin could be so engaging?

  7. I couldn’t believe how much of a dick this guy was. Man. I haven’t seen someone I have reviled so much since Daniel Plainview. That’s a compliment of the highest order to Keaton, of course. Man, was he good! Delicious review Keith 😉

    • Thanks man! He just grew evermore consumed with personal ambition. And didn’t Keaton sell it great? Man, I was so fixated on his character through the entire movie. Such a top-notch performance.

      • I couldn’t believe how brutal some of those scenes were down the back stretch. Just a brilliant performance. Really reminded me of DDL in There Will be Blood. I don’t think it was on *that* level but Keaton was just . . . oh damn. Brilliant.

      • No explanation!!! None whatsoever! I don’t get it man. Maybe you’re right, maybe they didn’t submit it. Maybe copies didn’t get out. Maybe it released to late for more voters to see. I just don’t know. Me personally, I’ll be considering it a 2017 movie.

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