The Founder

Year: 2016
Production Co: FilmNation Entertainment
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Robert D Siegel
Cast: Michael Keaton, John Carroll Lynch, Nick Offerman, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson, Linda Cardellini, BJ Novak

With The Lego Movie and Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs paving the way for product placement and brand recognition right there in the titles, talking about the history of McDonalds seems almost quaint by comparison.

Continuing his career resurgence and seeming Oscar bid after Birdman, Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the ostensible brainchild behind the staggering growth of the McDonalds restaurant chain that began in the 1950s.

You might vaguely know the story about how Kroc partnered with the brothers that gave the chain its name, and you might have heard there was some scheming behind the scenes that went on to make the myth. That's what The Founder is about.

While a barely successful travelling salesman, Kroc (Keaton) visits a hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California, who's ordered so many of his milkshake makers – his current business effort – he's sure it's a mistake.

What he sees there stops him in his tracks. It's a revolution in food service as brothers Mac (John Carrol Oates) and Dick (Nick Offerman) have perfected the fast food system we now know worldwide. The menu is simple and sparse, the burgers and fries are made in only minutes using an efficient production line technique and the packaging is instantly disposable.

Using his relentless, sledgehammer charm, Kroc convinces the pair to enter into a contract with him to expand and take their system national. Mac is excited but Dick is skeptical, sniffing a rat behind Kroc's slick bluster.

And as history shows, he should have listened to his gut. As Kroc signs more and more locations and butts heads with the McDonald brothers over his cost cutting and rapid expansion, things become more and more fraught between them.

Kroc eventually stole – with legal backing – the McDonalds name and ran Dick and Mac out of business, leaving them with little to none of the fortune that ensued, and despite not changing his tactic or demeanour or going through a traditional character arc, Kroc morphs into the villain of his own tale.

The very characteristics that make him to underdog hero-in-waiting at the beginning of the film (dogged determination, an eye for a marketable idea, big dreams) see him become a destroyer as much as a builder. If there's a theme, maybe it's simply the old chestnut that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The peak of Kroc's arrogance and selfishness and the nadir of his character comes when he tells his long-suffering wife (Laura Dern) – who's waited dutifully at home for years while he's chased various business ideas – out of the blue that he wants a divorce, simply because he's met someone else he wants instead.

John Lee Hancock's direction is fine and low-key. The period detail appears to be pretty faultless, so the only element that really stands out for consideration is Keaton's performance. Now we're a few films into his dramatic renaissance we can judge him purely on acting talent, and whether it's the characterisation he goes with for Kroc or it's just the extent of his skills, Keaton plays the character a little bit cartoony. Kroc's energy and verve will remind you a little bit of Beetlejuice, and that's a slightly jarring in dramatic awards-bait like this.

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