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The Founder - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Founder
Directing: B-
Acting: B+
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

The Founder tells the story of an amoral businessman who is less likable as time goes on, and who turned McDonald's into the nightmare behemoth it is today by seriously fucking over -- and stealing credit from -- its original founders. Sounds fun, right?

Not exactly. To its credit, there is something compelling about The Founder, but you don't leave it feeling much edified by the story. It's more like the dark side of the American dream. I suppose you could argue that Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) helped a whole lot of hard working people, evidently without regard to religious or to at least some degree ethnic background, but it was all in the service of self-interest. Keaton is well cast as a guy who seems deceptively wholesome on the surface, so it takes about halfway through the movie before you start thinking, Hey. This guy's an asshole.

He certainly had a vision, though. When he can't believe it's not a mistake when a restaurant out in San Bernadino ordered six of his milkshake making machines, he drives out there from the midwest to take a look at the place. There he finds a revolutionary concept, which in the fifties, with its glut of drive-in burger joints, had never been seen before: food ordered to pick up at the window, ready to deliver as soon as the order is taken. Served in bags and wrapping, no plates or silverware. He knows it could be big, and he convinces Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and a mustache-less Nick Offerman) to start franchising. Supremely protective of their concept, the McDonald brothers draw up a contract for Ray to sign, which he does.

But once Ray gets a sniff of success, he's like a shark catching the scent of blood. Over time, he finds people willing to help him weasel his way out of this contract, all the while frustrating the McDonald brothers at every turn, the most important of which is starting to purchase the land that he'll then lease to the franchisees.

It just gets better for Ray Kroc, and worse for the McDonald brothers, from there. Given that it's a true story and all a matter of public record, the story can't technically be spoiled, but I'll stop there just in case for some reason this sounds like a movie you'd like to watch. Maybe you're a big Michael Keaton fan. He certainly embodies his part well. John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman do as well, although it does feel as though they are depicted here as almost suspiciously saintly victims. It's easy to believe they were indeed screwed royally by Kroc, but it's difficult to believe they were without any fault at all in how they dealt with all of this.

So. The original founders of McDonald's are a bit too good to be believed, and Ray Kroc is an unrepentant douche bag. After all, Kroc went on to refer to himself as the founder of McDonald's, and in the end literally put the McDonald brothers out of business. (They did get sizable consolation prizes, though, so I'd hesitate to feel too badly for them.) Does this make for a pleasant movie watching experience? It does offer a fascinating point of view: what McDonald's could have become without Ray Kroc's interference. In all likelihood it never would have become the world's largest fast food chain, but it also would have continued offering good food with quality ingredients. We all know that saying that's a thing of the past is a wild understatement -- the kinds of things McDonald's has wreaked on the world with their food and their marketing isn't even touched on here. Go watch Super Size Me for that.

To be fair, The Founder is a competent, mostly solid film, considering the subject matter -- notwithstanding a relatively tedious first few scenes. A story like this, about a man who is impossible to present as a sympathetic character, needs more innovation than this in its storytelling to be truly worth watching. There is so much better talent and skill applied to far more vital stories on display on other screens at your local multiplex.

I'd have found this story a lot more satisfying if Ray Kroc had ultimately experienced some kind of downfall. Of course, that's not real life, and this was a real guy. Admittedly I'm asking for a literal cliche here, and under normal circumstances the absence of it would be commended. But director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks -- not exactly known for rising above the trappings of mediocrity) was perhaps not the best person for the job of telling this story. He's too straightforward and matter-of-fact about it. He offers us nothing to remember about the movie itself, only that Ray Kroc got away with being a crook. And that he cast great actresses (Laura Dern and Linda Cardellini as Kroc's successive wives) in thankless roles. I guess Hancock just got tired of offering movies with any kind of uplift. Great way to start the year 2017: with the massive success of a shady businessman.

Michael Keaton is the guy who stole everything from the original founders of McDonald's in THE FOUNDER.

Overall: B-
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