ilm,Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, Laura Dern
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: February 17th
Is The Founder the first Trump era film? It is tempting to see it that way. After all they are certainly some similarities between him and its protagonist Ray Kroc. The empires and media profiles that both men built over the years were facades, covering up the lack of business innovation that capitalism is supposed to reward. There is one crucial difference however. While Trump licensed his own name out to practically everything under the sun, the foundations of Kroc’s success was built under a different name, that of the McDonald brothers, whose idea of assembly line restaurant developed the method of fast food, an idea Kroc took and franchised out from a small local business in California, to perhaps the biggest symbol of American cultural imperialism and causing the McDonald brothers to become footnotes in their own story.
In 1954, before Ronald McDonald, Happy Meals, and the declining health of the general public, Kroc (Michael Keaton) was a struggling traveling salesman, unsuccessfully selling milkshake makers to restaurants across the Midwest. Upon receiving a large order from a business in San Bernardino, California, a curious Ray visits and discovers an original restaurant system, with fast service, simple menus, and disposable packaging in contrast to the long waiting time and wrong orders he was accustomed to in his travels. Ray approaches the owners, brothers Mac and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) with the idea to franchise the restaurant. The brothers, whose own attempts at franchising was a failure several years previously, reluctantly agree under the condition that they will have quality control over the standards of the restaurant. Ray agrees and sets upon building McDonalds in the Midwest.
The easiest option that director John Lee Hancock and writer Robert D. Seigel could have gone for was to portray Kroc as the emblem of capitalist ruthlessness and greed. Fortunately, the filmmakers take a subtler approach, resulting in a far more interesting and engaging film. When we are introduced to Ray Kroc, we see a dreamer, a man who believes in the American Dream that will reward his ambitions. This pluckiness, alongside Keaton’s natural likability, allows for a great deal of empathy for Kroc, making his gradual decent into ethical decay all the more fascinating to watch.
Much of this success of The Founder is down to Keaton, who nails the character’s moral downward spiral to the top with aplomb. He dominates the film; the only downside being that many of the supporting characters feel underused. As the McDonald brothers Offerman and Lynch are both in typically fine form here, though the middle section relegates them to the sidelines. Joining them are Laura Dern and Linda Cardellini as Kroc’s first and second wife respectively, both of who do a solid job with underwritten roles.
Another minor quibble would be that while Hancock gets some great performances from his actors and tells the story in an engaging way, it feels quite pedestrian in its presentation. The visuals are ordinary and an overbearing and distracting score by Carter Burwell, who was clearly having an off day, hampers the film.
Nevertheless The Founder is a thoroughly entertaining and intelligent film, one that tackles the foundations of the American Dream by making a hero out of a man who uses his ambitions to cover for his lack of talent and leaves the true entrepreneurs in his wake. While the release may seem fortuitous, the fact of the matter is that for as long as men like Kroc and Trump exist, this message of the dangers of greed and moral corruption will sadly always remain relevant.