The Founder (2016)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BB.5

USA, 2016,, , , .  Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .

A traveling salesman who has peddled everything possible is tired and disillusioned, trying to get drive-in burger joints to buy his multi-milkshake machine and getting nowhere until a phone call comes in that changes his life.  Two brothers running a burger joint that has endless lineups need to buy eight milkshake machines from Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), and after meeting the McDonald brothers, Kroc is fascinated by what he sees: an assembly line operation burger joint that gets delicious food to people within thirty seconds of ordering at the pick-up window.  The brothers (, ) are proud of what they have created but are still hesitant when the visionary salesman convinces them that he can make them a national phenomenon.  Protective of quality control above all else, they agree to Kroc’s franchising their stores so long as the contract they come up with confirms that all McDonald’s restaurants will serve food to the quality that they desire.  The rest is not hard to guess, a story of ambition and greed quashing ideals far too easily in the climb to the top of the American business world, and director John Lee Hancock doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about spelling it out.  The director who soft-shoed the biographies of P.L. Travers and Leigh Anne Twohey but still gave them a lot of charisma seems reluctant to judge Kroc’s shady greed too harshly, while Keaton seems confused about how honest he wants to be about portraying it.  The real problem with this movie, though, is that it’s about the wrong character(s):  a man who climbs the ladder successfully by screwing people over is not news, and finding out that McDonald’s has a ruthless suit behind its success after watching movies like Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation wouldn’t even make children bat an eyelash.  What of the brothers who bore the name that became globally synonymous with America (and American corporate culture), though, and why are they pushed into the background of a tale that also points out their being screwed out of their birthright and hundreds of millions of dollars?  The answer is really that a movie that thinks it’s going to blow your mind by revealing the ugly underbelly of a capitalist society is a tribute to that very system, one that is far more interested in the winner not because he is better but because he won.  We certainly feel pity for the McDonald boys and admire their high standards and inability to compromise, but we’d go to the restaurant with the shinier sign and better advertising too.  The hypocrisy that could implicate the audience is completely avoided in a film that is a well-shot, well-acted and respectable but ultimately not very thrilling biopic of a very predictable man.  Keaton is a talented actor but he’s no Emma Thompson or Sandra Bullock and there’s no enjoyment in watching his restrained performance slick its way to the top, while Laura Dern and outshine him as the women in his life but are given too little to do.

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