The Founder (PG13: brief coarse language)
Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch Directed by John Lee Hancock
I’m loving it. The Founder, charged by Michael Keaton’s live-wire central performance, recounts how struggling middle-aged milkshake-mixer salesman Ray Kroc came upon a hamburger stand founded by Richard (Nick Offerman) and Maurice McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) in 1954 Southern California, and then co-opted the brothers’ assembly line “Speedy Service System” to create the McDonald’s Corporation global franchising empire.
Kroc, in other words, cheated the McDonalds of the billion-dollar corporation that bears their name after signing a partnership deal with them.
Director John Lee Hancock’s third, engrossing biopic following The Blind Side, which won Sandra Bullock the 2010 Best Actress Oscar, and Saving Mr Banks (2013) is almost as sneaky. Hancock turns an American success story inside out, into a cautionary tale on the cutthroat capitalism and commercial compromise of business in the US: to further boost profits, Kroc introduces frozen fries and substitutes powder for fresh milk.
The poor McDonalds. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are hugely sympathetic as the decent “yokels,” no match for such a crook.
Keaton is however too interesting an actor for one-dimensional villainy. Kroc is shown to be innovative, persistent and hardworking: cue scenes of Laura Dern as the lonely wife, languishing in their Illinois home. He is laughed off by the snobs at his country club. That fuels his monomaniacal drive.
His trajectory parallels the rise of modern fast food. This history of the changes in America’s post-war restaurant industry is tasty, informative entertainment with a deliberately bitter aftertaste. 4/5