Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Founder Is Impressive And Engaging!

The Good: Amazing direction, Incredible performances, Decent storytelling pace
The Bad: Several underdeveloped characters
The Basics: The Founder tells the story of the businessman who franchised McDonald's restaurants . . . in a truly engaging way!

One of the few nice things about the February Dump - a time of year when major studios crap out a bunch of products that would not perform well any other time, while promoting their serious offerings for Oscar Season - is that I tend to find a few minutes to catch up on films I missed during Oscar Pandering Season. Today, that takes the form of taking in The Founder. The Founder, a film about the man who created the McDonald's restaurant fast food empire, is not a film I had any inherent interest in . . . until I saw the cast. With so many wonderful actors - Michael Keaton, Linda Cardellini, John Carroll Lynch, Patrick Wilson - I became instantly intrigued. What had prompted so many wonderful performers to appear in a film about a businessman who created McDonald's?!

It did not take long for me to get an answer to that question, as The Founder is surprisingly engaging. It is worth noting that The Founder is based upon actual historic events, but I am not knowledgeable in them. As a result, this review is purely for the film The Founder and nothing else. When I discuss characters like Ray Kroc, I am referring only to the character in the film and comments about him are based only upon how that character appears in The Founder.

Opening in St. Louis, 1954, Ray Kroc is a traveling salesman working for Prince Castle, trying to sell multimixers to drive-thru restaurants and he is meeting with complete disinterest. One morning, he calls in for his messages and finds there has been an order for six mixers placed in San Bernadino, California and when he calls to speak to the restaurant's owner, the order is upped to eight mixers and that inspires Kroc to travel out to see the restaurant that wants the mixers. The restaurant is a single stand called McDonald's Hamburger's and when Kroc visits it, he is baffled by the fact that the food is ready immediately and does not come with any silverware or flatware.

While out eating his burger, Kroc meets Mac McDonald and he gets a tour of the restaurant. He is astounded by the functioning restaurant and Kroc takes Mac and Dick McDonald out to dinner to find out how they created the unconventional model for a restaurant, as they did. The next day, Kroc tells the brothers that he wants to franchise McDonald's. The brothers are disappointed because their first attempt at franchising went so poorly, but between seeing a concept design for the "golden arches" and honestly believing that if the right people were hired to manage the idea, McDonald's could be a viable franchise, Kroc is inspired. After briefly returning to his home in Illinois, Kroc returns to McDonalds where he re-pitches to the brothers. After getting an agreement from the brothers, Kroc risks his home to break ground on the first franchised restaurant in the McDonald's chain and he begins the process of building the company.

The primary concern I had when I sat down to The Founder, my big concern was that the film would be nothing more than a two hour advertisement for McDonald's. Kroc is a man who sees potential and he is tired by trying to sell things that do not truly excite him. Michael Keaton's performance following the scene where Kroc interviews the McDonalds brothers is laced with angst. Keaton plays a character who is occasionally unsettling to watch for the way he emotes and pitches his ideas. Keaton has a mastery for stiffness and physical performance that he brings to the role of Ray Kroc.

Long before Keaton opens up his mouth in the key scene where Kroc sees how his early franchises have been performing, his anger is clear. Similarly, Kroc's obsessive need to network is well-presented. Laura Dern emotes perfectly the frustration of being the long-suffering wife as Ethel Kroc. Dern matches Keaton's physical ability with her acting in The Founder. Dern is captured by director John Lee Hancock with subtle looks of sadness in almost every single scene she is in and her supporting character arc in The Founder is surprisingly memorable.

John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman have pretty amazing on-screen chemistry as Mac and Dick McDonald. Lynch and Offerman have to frequently do a back and forth with their dialogue that requires a patter and timing similar to Abbott And Costello. Lynch and Offerman have that kind of timing and they are impressive in the execution of their deliveries.

By the time Patrick Wilson and Linda Cardellini appear in The Founder, I found myself uncommonly hooked on the film. More than the story or the somewhat generic "love at first sight" subplot that was beginning, I caught myself paying more and more attention to the way John Lee Hancock was capturing the performances in The Founder. There is something criminal about Hancock not being nominated for the Best Director Oscar. Any director who effectively captures on film a well-choreographed scene is a shoe-in for the nomination, but it takes a truly extraordinary director to tell a story on film where the viewer knows exactly how the story ends and make is absolutely captivating. Hancock does that. The slightest lick of Cardellini's lips, Wilson subtly bristling, B.J. Novak barely in focus clearly listening, the slight slump of Laura Dern's shoulders, Michael Keaton's frantic eyes, Hancock captures everything masterfully.

Ray Kroc does not have to be a likable character; he betrays the two brothers from whom he learned of the model and he betrays his long-suffering wife who rose to the occasion to help him when he started to build his franchise empire. The Founder starts in a time when the idea of a fast food restaurant is an unheard of concept in the restaurant field; the viewer living in 2017 knows that fast food restaurants are a multi-billion a year industry and that McDonald's is one of the dominant corporations in that industry. It takes a pretty extraordinary combination of amazing acting and incredible direction to pull off a film with so many known variables in it, but Hancock and the cast of The Founder do it masterfully.

Hancock knows the exact amount of time to linger on John Carroll Lynch's sad eyes and he knows how to light a scene so that the slight furrowing of Michael Keaton's brow is captured; he makes the mundane magical and The Founder into a must-see movie!

For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
The Great Wall
War On Everyone
Underworld: Blood Wars
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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