Likely to come as a surprise to many that The Founder is less a success story regarding the origins of McDonalds, but more a tale on greed and the value of real estate, John Lee Hancock‘s engaging drama benefits from its stellar central performance from Michael Keaton, continuing the run he so assuredly began with Birdman (2014) and last year’s Spotlight.
The script from Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler) puts a strong emphasis on the human element and, specifically, the relationships formed during the birth of what would become the world’s largest burger franchise; it is noted in the closing credits that McDonald’s feeds 1% of the world’s population. It all begins in 1954 when determined travelling salesman Ray Kroc (Keaton) is suffering yet another knockback from the various businesses he is attempting to sell his latest product to – a commercial milkshake machine. The combined frustration he feels from failing to entice clients and the waiting time he dreads at whichever local diner he visits along the road lead Ray to San Bernadino in California where he is shell-shocked to not only receive a large order on his milkshake machines, but in witnessing the speed and quality at which brothers Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, respectively) run their burger business – an unassuming outlet known as McDonald’s.
Whilst we all know that the humble beginnings of McDonald’s will ultimately lead to a billion dollar franchise, how it gets there proves to be not the most likely of journeys with the McDonald brothers surprisingly reluctant to further their business, leaving the persistence of Ray to fuel the franchise fire. As he swindles the brothers out of their hard-earned business by purchasing the land on which their restaurant is built, as well as neglecting his supporting wife Ethel (Laura Dern) in the process, it’s all too easy for Ray to be pegged as an unlikeable villain. He’s ruthless and, at times, cruel but the film successfully paints these traits as justified; it also helps that Keaton is wonderfully watchable in a role that could potentially net him some recognition come award season.
As much as you understand Ray’s determination, you can’t help but feel for the McDonald brothers whose ultimate undoing lays in their own inflexibility to forward their vision, and both Offerman and Lynch perform the duo with a mix of delicacy and determination. B.J. Novak as the lawyer assisting Ray in unravelling his many legal obstacles, Patrick Wilson as successful restauranteur Rollie Smith and Linda Cardellini as Rollie’s wife Joan who responds positively to Ray’s determination all provide ample support, but The Founder is Keaton’s movie through-and-through.
Not exactly the inspiring tale one might expect, nor is it likely to warm people to the McDonald’s brand, The Founder still proves an intriguing watch all the same. Sadly, the nice guys finish last here but, if anything, it does showcase that one’s persistence can ultimately pay off, regardless of who, or what, you lose along the way.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Founder is in cinemas now.