The contentious start of fast food chain McDonald’s is the focus of the smart if unspectacular The Founder, in which Michael Keaton delivers a sturdy performance as Ray Croc, an ambitious salesman who spends his days travelling through every drive-by dinner across America. It’s only when he stops by McDonald’s, a cutting-edge, family-friendly restaurant run by brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) that his eyes light up with dollar signs.
It isn’t long before Ray is muscling in on the brothers’ business, scheming his way to the top regardless of any damaged – personal or otherwise – caused. It’s an undeniably fascinating story of one man’s reckless determination to succeed, with a script that’s sharply written by Robert D. Siegel, though it stops short of truly delving deep inside the psychology of Ray. Keaton picks up for where the script lacks in his portrayal of Ray. It’s a performance that should have resulted in Oscar buzz – better than his turn as an investigative journalist in Spotlight, if not quite hitting the heights reached in Birdman.
Ray is a man who will never be happy until he has everything he’s ever wanted, no matter who’s expense that comes at, his long-suffering wife (subtly played by Laura Dern) or the McDonald brothers, who see their business slowly but surely pulled away from them in vindictive ways. But the script doesn’t quite dig into the darkness, remaining somewhat minimal of proper drama besides the odd shouting match and outburst. The devastation the brothers feel as the narrative progresses and their business is pushed and pulled in a myriad of different directions, most of which against their beliefs and future plans, isn’t as heartbreaking as it could have been. Like Keaton, both Offerman and Lynch make up for script’s shortcomings. Lynch in particular fiery as the more protective brother.
John Lee Hancock directs with a sure yet soft hand, which explains the film’s temporary impression. It’s well-told and well-acted but there’s a limit to how much empathy can be felt for the characters. The Founder is at its best when touching on the psychology behind Ray’s need to succeed. His drive is admirable, even if the ways in which he goes about hitting the top leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The Founder is a solid biopic but not one that will go down in history – unlike the multi-million dollar-making fast food chain at its core.
Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish