Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Founder – Movie Review: Performance over Substance

One thing is certain, Michael Keaton is a fantastic actor.

The Founder starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern and directed by John Lee Hancock. The Founder is based on the true life story of Ray Kroc who built McDonald’s into modern fast food restaurant giant it is today. The movie starts with Kroc as a struggling milkshake mixer salesmen. He travels to town to town, drive-in to drive-in trying to convince each individual owner to buy his new mixer with little to no success. Like a lightning bolt a call comes in requesting five mixers from a small restaurant in California owned by the McDonald brothers. Kroch drives out west to view their operation, becomes inspired and wants to help the brothers franchise the restaurant. The majority of the film then focuses on the relationship between Kroch and the brothers and Kroch’s incessant need to become successful.

The Founder is telling an interesting story, and Michael Keaton is fantastic as Ray Kroc, but the execution of the narrative of the film is lacking. Keaton turns in another masterful performance, but it’s the story they are trying to tell about Kroc which is a little lost. The film doesn’t seem to know how they want to portray Kroch. In the film he is portrayed as an ambitious man, and the person who built the franchise empire of McDonalds couldn’t be anything but ambitious. The desire which drives him also makes him out to be a less than savory person to deal with. The portrayal of Kroch being both an ambitious man with dreams, but also someone with no regard for others around him isn’t executed well in the movie. Hanock could have done a better job of walking the line between the two different portrayals of Kroch’s character.

The best evidence of Kroch’s personality not working in the film is his relationship with the first wife played by Laura Dern. There relationship is supposed to be strained in the film, but it’s always cold, and is never truly explored very well. I’m not sure why Dern’s character is in the film.  As his current wife she tries to support him, but when she does Kroc squashes her efforts. Kroch in the film never sees her as being behind him while she does try to let him chase his dream. Then the film throws in another love interest which again paints Kroch in a negative light. He unceremoniously dumps his current wife for a third, who in real life is women he stays with until he died in 1984. This love triangle muddied up the story and took time away from the narrative of Kroch building the McDonalds empire while stepping on the McDonalds brothers.

If The Founder was focused on telling a true to life story about Kroch, then they should have also included his first wife and daughter which are never brought up in the film. Since this is never mentioned it would have been better for the story if they would have cut out the second wife and to focus just on how Kroc built the business and his interactions with the McDonalds brothers. This is what the movie is about in the end, Kroch’s ambition and drive and his willingness to step on anyone to be successful. The movie is at its best when it is showing him trying to figure out ways to grow the business while still working with the brothers. What gets lost is the duel nature they use in portraying Kroch. He was a complicated man and some movies can do a good job in displaying the complexities, The Founder just missed the mark.

This isn’t to say the film is completely without merit. The story about how the corporation grew and how Kroch managed to steal it away from the McDonald brothers is fascinating. This kept me engaged in watching the movie and minus the scenes with the wife the pacing of the film was well done. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch do great jobs as the brothers and Offerman in particular does a good job. It was strange to see him without a mustache or beard, but it worked for the movie. The story they tell about how they came with the speedy service model was interesting to watch and well done within the movie. The film should have really focused more on the relationship between the brothers and Kroch. It does focus on this for much of the film and when it does is when the movie is most interesting.

The Founder overall is a decent movie. It’s worth watching if and when it comes to Netflix or another streaming service. It’s probably even worth a matinee price or rental, but it’s not something I would rush out to see. Keaton’s performance is worth the effort of a watch. The movie just would have been better if they stuck to a more coherent way to portray the character of Ray Kroc in the film. Some movies can do a good job of showing a character’s duel nature, like Walk the Line, but The Founder just was lacking. 

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