The last time the film world got a taste of McDonald’s fast food chain came in the form of Morgan Spurlock’s gross out “documentary” Super Size Me where the filmmaker set out to eat McDonald’s for thirty days straight with the aim of warding consumers off of the food forever. While that picture painted the corporation in a less than flattering light, Saving Mr. Banks director John Lee Hancock with his new film The Founder aims to reverse that unfriendly public perception of the fast food chain while illustrating the behind-the-scenes drama of struggling salesman turned ruthless mogul Ray Kroc.
Something of a schmaltzy subliminal advert for the family image that is McDonald’s, the power of suggestion rings very loud in the film’s ability to make you want to buy a McDouble after the film is over. Unlike the murky motivations behind Saving Mr. Banks to whitewash the history behind the Disney image, The Founder allows Keaton’s Kroc to ascend in power while decidedly descending in integrity. More than anything, The Founder like There Will Be Blood chronicles the subject’s rise from little man to tyrant and the most miraculous thing about it is how it refrains from tarnishing the McDonald’s image while frowning on the man who turned it into a household name.
The Founder could well have been corporatist hagiography were it not for The Wrestler screenwriter Robert D. Siegel’s treatment of the proceedings and Michael Keaton’s charismatic performance in the role of Kroc that will surely garner the actor another Oscar nomination. While the film does dip into the recipes somewhat, The Founder is mostly about how Ray Kroc over the course of the picture manages to wrestle away executive control over the franchise from the men who started it in the first place, Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Richard “Dick” McDonald (Nick Offerman). Everyone gives stellar performances, including veteran actress Laura Dern as Kroc’s thankless unambitious wife, Patrick Wilson as one of the franchise owners and Linda Cardellini as the woman key to propelling McDonald’s to greatness.
Hancock’s direction is textbook and Coen Brothers’ longtime composer Carter Burwell’s score is somewhat underwhelming, but Keaton’s performance is so captivating aided by a solid script by Siegel that The Founder which could have been a dry procedural instead becomes a compelling rags-to-riches tale while condemning the ruthless and unscrupulous methods taken to reach the summit of success. Whatever your views on McDonald’s and the impact fast food has on our national health in general won’t change after seeing The Founder. What it does manage to do however is shine a spotlight on how frequent successes are achieved by riding on the backs of others and how some of the best commercial ideas in our nation aren’t so much devised as they are stolen.
- Andrew Kotwicki