Saturday, 16 June 2018

Movie Review: The Founder (2016)


A fast-paced and surprisingly engaging story about empire building in post-war America, The Founder explores the origins of one of the world's most iconic food brands.

It's 1954, and Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) has spent his career as a traveling salesman, often neglecting his wife Ethel (Laura Dern). Now he is trying to sell modern milkshake machines to restaurants, with little success. When he unexpectedly receives an order for eight machines from one restaurant in San Bernardino, he drives over to investigate.

He finds an enormously popular local restaurant called McDonald's, serving standardized burgers, fries and shakes in large volumes, thanks to a fine-tuned food production system devised by brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald.

Ray spots a business opportunity for rapid expansion and franchising across the country. The brothers are reluctant, especially Dick. But they eventually offer Ray a strict contract to head up expansion efforts while they maintain control over every decision. After a slow start Ray hits on a formula combining the efficient food production system with a family-run ethos, but his plans for rapid success are thwarted by the conservative brothers.

Directed by John Lee Hancock, The Founder is a warts-and-all look at the brilliant businessman who invented fast food burger chains, and a refreshing business story that is mostly about business, rather than any contrived romance or character quirks. Kroc spotted the opportunity within the food production system conceived by the McDonalds brothers, and his genius was to extrapolate one elegant concept, designed to produce consistent food fast, into a business behemoth.

The Founder reveals the sharp claws and ruthless attitude needed to create a big-time business. Far from a puff piece, the Robert D. Siegel script is unblinking when it comes to Kroc's character. This is a relentless man with oceans of persistence and no limits on ambition, hardened by years on the road having doors slammed in his face. Comfortable ignoring and often belittling his wife, he first charms Mac and Dick and later plays extreme hardball to gain control of the chain that holds their name -- all with a smarmy smile. Neither squeamish nor necessarily principled, when it's time to trample on others, Kroc is in his real element.

The Founder could have done more to flesh out some of Kroc's allies and associates who helped him thrive. Harry Sonneborn (B.J. Novak) gets one pivotal scene, reorienting Kroc's focus from restaurants to real estate, but otherwise disappears. Long-time partner Fred Turner (Justin Randell Brooke) barely registers. Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini) fares better as the woman who catches his eye as his expansion plans catch fire.

In the central role Michael Keaton is full of energy, and marginally overacts. John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman counterbalance Keaton's animation with laid-back representations of old-fashioned (and soon endangered) values.

Ray Krok generated immense wealth from selling mass-produced junk food using someone else's invented process. The Founder is an astute microcosm of what it takes to will the American dream into reality.






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