John Lee Hancock’s “The Founder” is a fascinating tale that may be concerning at first, but turns down a darker, more complex path that showcases its star with gusto.
How McDonald’s was spread from San Bernardino to the entire United States and most of the world is explored in “The Founder.” Hancock tells the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a salesman who travels the country selling various restaurant equipment to drive-in theaters.
After receiving a call from a new restaurant, he travels Route 66 to California and meets the McDonald brothers, Dick, played by Nick Offerman and Mac, played by John Carroll Lynch. Struck with vision and ambition, Ray convinces the brothers to franchise the restaurant throughout the United States.
The movie does fall flat at certain points. The film wasn’t produced by the McDonald’s Corporation, nor was it affiliated with it in any way, but it certainly feels like it in the first half of the film.
There are dozens of shots of men, women and children biting into a McDonald’s burger with a look of euphoria on their faces. When Dick and Mac McDonald tell Ray their origin story over dinner, the whole montage plays like a McDonald’s commercial.
The true selling point of this movie isn’t the cinematography, the soundtrack or even the supporting cast. The best part of “The Founder,” is Michael Keaton’s performance.
Readers may remember Keaton’s stellar performance in this summer’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and Keaton fans will definitely remember 2014’s Oscar-nominated “Birdman.” The performer has proven himself in recent years as an actor to be respected, and his potential is utilized to his full extent in “The Founder.”
The way in which Keaton inhabits the role of Ray Kroc is immediately immersive. The movie begins with Keaton looking directly into the camera, delivering a sales pitch.
The sheer charisma Keaton exudes is irresistible, and his smile draws the audience into the personality of a man desperate for success and persistent enough to achieve it.
Complimenting Keaton’s performance are the McDonald brothers, Offerman and Lynch. The pair have a lot of chemistry on screen, and Offerman makes a surprisingly graceful transition from his normally comedic roles and facial hair.
Laura Dern plays Ray’s unhappy wife well enough, and B.J. Novak portrays the heartless Harry J. Sonneborn with skill. All these performances serve to elevate Ray Kroc as a character.
The film is a “Breaking Bad”-esque transformation. Ray Kroc starts with very little to his name. He can’t vend his wares anywhere, and his wife is unhappy with him.
Over the course of the movie, Ray begins to embrace his darker side as he milks the cash cow that he discovers in San Bernardino. Watching this change, the audience begins to question if Ray ever was a decent man from the start, and Keaton keeps us surprised all along the way.
At its core, “The Founder” is a powerful tale of a self-made man self-making. Anyone searching for a skilled actor showing off his craft should look no further than this film.
“The Founder” can be found on Netflix.