Film review: The Founder

Michael Keaton relishes the limelight as Ray Kroc, the man who took McDonald's to the world.

Michael Keaton relishes the limelight as Ray Kroc, the man who took McDonald's to the world.

(M) ★★★★

Director: John Lee Hancock.

Cast: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Patrick Wilson, B. J. Novak, Linda Cardellini.

AFTER the incredible double of Birdman and Spotlight – both of which won the best film Oscar – directors must have been tripping over themselves to cast Michael Keaton.

Not only is he potentially a lucky charm for big awards at the moment, but he's in career best form. Not to be dismissive of his previous best roles (Beetlejuice, Batman), but Birdman’s Riggan and Spotlight’s Robby were new PBs.

While it's unlikely The Founder will give Keaton a spot in three best film Oscar winners in a row, it's another top turn from an actor at the top of his game, with his Ray Kroc right up there with Riggan and Robby.

Kroc was the man who took McDonald’s to the world and The Founder details his rise from “52-year-old, over-the-hill milkshake machine salesman” to president of the biggest fast food empire on the planet. It also shines a light on the original McDonald brothers Dick (Offerman) and Mac (Lynch), and how Kroc snuck their own restaurant out from under their noses.

For the most part, The Founder is fascinating stuff, driven by the personality clash between the cautious McDonald brothers and the gung-ho Kroc. Keaton’s performance as Kroc is tasty, but there’s also a delicious script at work that balances the main character’s flaws with an underdog determination that keeps Kroc likeable for the audience well beyond when he should be. This is one of the best aspects of the film – the way it has us barracking for Kroc before pulling the rug out from under us and portraying him as an utterly heartless money-man, corrupted by his own dream.

Keaton is ably supported by Offerman and Lynch, two vastly under-rated actors. The former underplays things nicely in a refreshingly straight role and the latter delivers another strong, unshowy performance. The rest of the cast is solid and flits in and out well, but this is Keaton’s film and he carries it with ease.

The biggest downside is some slower sections in the second act that feel like you’re watching a McDonald’s franchisee induction video. It’s all necessary background, demonstrating how revolutionary McDonald’s was in a time of drive-in diners and rollerskating waitresses, but it drags the tempo down to the careful and precise level of the McDonald brothers, not the flashy, fast-talking swagger of Kroc. 

Like Keaton, director Hancock is on a good run – this follows the successful Saving Mr Banks and Oscar-nominated The Blind Side, and is his best film yet. The look of the film is authentic and Hancock ensures it’s Keaton’s show, neatly tricking the audience into liking Kroc for longer than we should.

The Founder is as much about the American dream of becoming filthy rich as it is about the history of McDonald’s. It’s what it says about the former – that you have to trample on some good people to get to the top – that makes it really interesting. But even if you have no interest in how McDonald’s went from one little walk-up restaurant in San Bernadino to something that feeds one per cent of the world’s population every day, there’s at least another great Keaton performance here to tide you over.

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