LOS ANGELES, January 21, 2017 — Big Mac, anyone? In “The Founder,” moviegoers are introduced to the legendary story of mega-fast food chain McDonalds and Ray Kroc, the man who made McEverything famous. Michael Keaton stars as Kroc, a traveling salesman who peddled milkshake machines to drive-ins across the country before he stumbled into greatness.
While on the road hawking his machines, Kroc stumbles upon a small hamburger joint named McDonalds and is surprised how fast their service is when compared to similar shops. He meets the McDonald brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch), and quickly understands how easily they could replicate their single McDonalds restaurant locally and across the country. He pitches the brothers, who are leery of the idea. But in the end, they allow him to run their franchising operation.
Directed by John Lee Hancock—well respected for true story films like “The Blindside” and “Saving Mr. Banks” — the film delivers a strong story of corporate America and the way the wolves in the henhouse are always searching for a way to devour successful mom and pop stores and businesses and transforming them into something completely different. Hancock gets a considerable assist from the witty, fast-paced script, which was penned by Robert D. Siegel, the former editor-in-chief of The Onion, whose previous work includes “Big Fan” and “The Wrestler.”
Michael Keaton delivers a passionate performance as Krock, portraying him, rightly or wrongly, as a classic, street-savvy huckster prowling about ant looking to make a quick buck. His greatest line, “If my competitor was drowning, I’d walk over and put a hose in his mouth,” demonstrates his his character’s simple, efficient business philosophy. Naturally, Kroc ultimately manages to take the growing business away from its original founders.
Keaton’s performance in this film is actually so good, so kinetic, that it steals the thunder from the film’s other recognizable stars, including Laura Dern (as Kroc’s wife Ethel Fleming), Patrick Wilson, Linda Cardellini and BJ Novak, all of whom perform admirably in supporting roles.
Downsides: First, both the script of this film and its director somehow manage to skip over some controversial escapades in Kroc’s real life story, including the entrepreneur’s affair with the wife of a franchise owner and his low-minded decision to build a competing franchise McDonalds store across from the original McDonald brothers’ location.
In addition, although Keaton’s over-the-top, bigger-than-life portrayal of Kroc keeps this film moving along even though the movie, on the whole, is only entertaining in parts. For that reason, it never manages to rise from the merely entertaining to great. But, like a Big Mac, a Mickey D’s fried apple pie
In the end, however, Keaton’s performance is fascinating from beginning to end, and the movie around him is entertaining in parts. It never rises above entertaining to great. But like a Big Mac, a McDonalds fried apple pie, or a McFlurry (if you can get one), it manages to satisfy.