By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
“That glorious name… McDonald’s,” states Michael Keaton’s Ray Kroc in THE FOUNDER, the true story behind one of the biggest companies in the world. And he’s not wrong, as the name McDonald’s is a glorious, extremely well known one, the signature ‘golden arches’ recognised by more people around the world than the cross. It’s insane, there’s no denying that, but becoming the hit that it is doesn’t come easy, and that’s where this movie comes in, telling the tale of how McDonald’s went from a local, one of a kind restaurant to the biggest fast food chain in the world.
We centre on Ray Kroc, a milkshake machine salesman who, much like the several items he’s invested in in the past, isn’t having much luck. His pitch is good, but people aren’t buying it, or at least that is until a local restaurant on the other side of the country orders a fair few of them. Ray is bewildered, not able to believe that it happened, so he travels to the restaurant to have a look, and he finds McDonald’s, a burger joint that gets your food ready in a matter of seconds, which has never been done before. He meets with the two owners, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch), who take him on a little tour and share the story of how McDonald’s came to be. He’s sold, and instantly wants to invest in the company, helping them to franchise it all throughout America.
While this is how the plot is begun, it’s not the only thing going on here. Sure, we follow Ray as he attempts to coordinate ways of setting up several McDonald’s stores in different states, but it’s not just about rising to the top. It’s about how Ray connived his way into the highest position possible, stealing away the brand from Dick and Mac, who were the ones who actually started it. And on top of all that, it’s the story of how his egotistical ways affected his home life and his marriage to Ethel (Laura Dern). It’s a toned down combination of THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and while it’s not quite on the same level as either one of them, it’s still a pretty brilliant movie in its own right.
There are a great many ways in which a biopic can be approached. You can do the most conventional method, where the subject’s life story is shown before your eyes, beginning with their childhood and going as far through their life as you wish, usually ending with the character’s death. Or, you could do a more focused approach to the biopic, telling the story of a certain event, but reflecting that event upon the rest of the person’s life, and in doing so educating us on their upbringing and aftermath of the events in a much more subtle way. Or you can just wing the whole thing, taking a more untraditional approach to biopic filmmaking, and for me, any of these three options work. They each serve different purposes, and so long as they’re handled with care and great skill, I’m happy.
So where does THE FOUNDER fit into this? What sort of biopic are we talking about here? Well, THE FOUNDER doesn’t really fit into any of them, per say. It’s not a conventional tell it from the ground up story, nor a story that focuses in on a small time frame, and yet it doesn’t deviate enough from either one of them to be considered experimental or unique. It’s a biopic, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s a biopic that takes several approaches to its subject matter.
THE FOUNDER has aspects about it that feel like the first option, aspects that feel like the second option and aspects that feel like the third option, combining the three together to make a fun, entertaining and highly informative biopic that manages to feel both safe and new at the same time, feeling like it’s taking risks despite rarely actually doing so, and as easy as it would be to fault it for doing that, there’s nothing bad about the way it tells its subject matter. It’s here to tell the story of McDonald’s, and in a way it could even be considered more of a McDonald’s biopic than it is a Ray Kroc biopic.
Thankfully, yes, THE FOUNDER does work, and it works exceptionally well. The rise of McDonald’s is not remotely straightforward, the story involving lies, scams, backstabbing and a whole lot of French Fries and patty flipping. It begins by painting Ray Crock as a sympathetic, likeable guy just trying to make a living, and it got me invested in his ambitions, and at the same time, it also had me invested in the stories of Dick and Mac McDonald. Obviously, the relationship between these three isn’t always happy go lucky, and there was never a clear image of right and wrong, simply different ways of selling a business.
On the one hand, I was really enjoying and pleased by the way Ray Kroc was able to sell this business, overcoming his troubled past (that frequently haunts him) and family problems to achieve greatness. If you look at the good he did and ignore the wrongs he put on others, there’s a lot to take away from what he achieved. There are aspects about him that I found to be inspiring, but at the same time, there are just as many aspects about him I found to be quite unappealing. As for Dick and Mac, they technically didn’t do anything wrong. They started a restaurant, they achieved what they were trying to achieve and they let Ray take their brand and make it big, except after a while, it became clear that they had different intentions as to what McDonald’s should be, and that’s where the juiciest bits of this movie came from.
Easily the best aspect of this movie was watching Ray, Mac and Dick all attempt to do what they thought was right. Ray wanted one thing, while Mac and Dick wanted another, and Ray would constantly find new ways to legally work around his contract to get things done his way. It’s entertaining, fast and energetic, and John Lee Hancock (THE BLIND SIDE, SAVING MR. BANKS) does a fantastic job at directing. He’s confident in what he does, balancing out most of the storylines to perfection, with the occasional exception of Ray’s personal life. Don’t get me wrong, Laura Dern does a great job with what she’s given, but the scenes between her and Ray weren’t nearly as interesting as the rest of the movie.
Can we please just give Michael Keaton an Oscar already? His performance here isn’t on the same level as BIRDMAN, which he so should’ve won it for, but with little competition this year, can he please just win one already… It’s far overdue and more than deserving, and his performance is most definitely worthy. It’s a brilliant display of acting, as is the whole cast, and he just nails every little tiny bit of this character. Also worthy of applause is Nick Offerman, the PARKS & RECREATION actor and one of my favourite people ever. If this man is in something, I will undoubtedly watch it, and while he’s lacking his oh-so-glorious beard, his performance still manages to be one of the best performances he’s ever given. His onscreen brother Mac, played by John Carroll Lynch, is pretty damn great as well. Lynch is an actor I’ve always recognised and liked, but never realised just how many of my favourite movies he’s in. I’ve always liked him, yet always managed to underestimate just how good he is, and just how diverse and wonderful his filmography is.
THE FOUNDER combines together different, familiar approaches to biopics to trick you into thinking you’re watching something fresh and original, despite not actually being so, but it works, so there’s that. It’s a frenetic, informative true story about one of the biggest brands in the world, and the film is extremely entertaining. If Michael Keaton doesn’t get his Oscar, it’s time to revolt. It’ll be maybe even a little more upsetting than Donald Trump becoming President. (Ed’s note: Not likely).