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Founder, The
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by alejandroariera

"“What Ray Kroc Was Made Of…”"
3 stars

Directed by John Lee Hancock and written by Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler”, “Big Fan”), “The Founder” suffers from a severe case of eating its cake and having it, too…or in this case, eating a Big Mac and having it, too. In trying to present a warts-and-all portrait of Ray Kroc, the traveling salesman who stumbled into somebody else’s revolutionary idea and turned it into one of the world’s largest food empires, Hancock and Siegel fall into a trap of their own making. Instead of an exploration of how capitalism preys upon, exploits and even corrupts innovation, they have, with the complicit assistance of composer Carter Burwell, delivered an almost triumphant and celebratory portrait of ruthlessness. Yes, Kroc may be portrayed in the second half of the film as a heartless bastard but he is their heartless bastard.

In a way, “The Founder” is a companion piece to Hancock’s previous film “Saving Mr. Banks,” his fictionalized account of the clash between P.L. Travers, the author of the “Mary Poppins” series of books, and Walt Disney during the pre-production of the now iconic film (soon to be remade). Both films have as their protagonist men who perpetuated a homogenized, fantasy-driven, almost naïve image of America where families of all colors and religious creed would congregate around a ride to discover the wonders of the world or under a pair of golden arches where they would pray at the altar of fatty burgers, salty fries and milkshakes made out of flavored powder and water with a “Sponsored by Coca-Cola” sign thrown in for good measure. Both Disney and Kroc face creators who are overprotective of their creations. Ms. Travers may be a force of nature but Disney eventually seduces her with his Midwestern charm to let him have his way with Mary. Kroc (Michael Keaton), on the other hand, tramples over brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch), whom Siegel and Hancock portray as obtrusive perfectionists who stand in the way of progress.

We first meet Kroc on the road in the mid-1950s as he visits diner after diner in the Midwest and South, trying to convince their owners to buy one of his multi-spindle milkshake mixers, parroting the same spiel of supply and demand, chicken and eggs when, one day, his assistant tells him that a restaurant out in San Bernardino, California, has ordered six of the devices. And off this fervent follower of such early positive thinking hustlers like the fictional Charles Floyd Nelson (a character inspired by the likes of Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie) goes, driving from Missouri to California to find out who the hell wants this contraption in such large numbers. There he finds the Promised Land: McDonald’s, a restaurant unlike any other where, instead of waiting forever for your food, you receive it, warm and nicely wrapped, in thirty seconds.

Impressed by the operation’s efficiency, Kroc invites the McDonald brothers to dinner where they tell him their story, a story about two entrepreneurs who tried everything, from owning a movie theater to running a hot dog stand, until, by trial and error, they came up with what they call the “Speedee Service System.” To see them, in a flashback, design and redesign their restaurant’s floor plan with colored chalk on a tennis court while their employees dance around it is a wonder to behold. It’s a joyful celebration of American ingenuity. After hearing their tale, Kroc makes them an offer he believes they can’t refuse: to let him franchise the hell out of their business. But the McDonald’s experience with franchising was a disaster; they’d much rather focus on quality over quantity. Undeterred, Kroc slowly chips at their defenses by, ultimately, appealing to their innate patriotism: “Do it for your country. Do it for America.”

Contract in hand, one that apparently gives the McDonald brothers a say in every decision Kroc makes, Ray mortgages his home for a second time without the consent of wife Ethel (Laura Dern, wasted in a thankless role) and begins plans to open the first McDonald’s restaurant outside California in Des Plaines, Illinois. There is something remarkably quaint and touching in these scenes as Kroc takes a hands-on approach to the restaurant’s operations from acknowledging employees by first name to cleaning the parking lot with broom and hose. Franchises begin to pop across the Midwest, some managed by a cross-section of ethnic America that would have made Disney’s vision of “It’s a small world after all” proud. But even though the restaurants are popular and generating huge business, Kroc has yet to see a single profitable penny no thanks to the brothers naysaying (especially from the uber-protective Dick). And so, smiling that wolfish Jack Nicholson smile that has become one of Keaton’s trademarks, Kroc prepares for a complete takeover of the company with the assistance of a former Tastee-Freeze executive, as Burwell’s celebratory, epic score prods Kroc towards the ultimate betrayal, one that Hancock can’t help but portray with awe.

Keaton understands Kroc far better than Hancock, his portrayal compensating for a directorialy ambivalent point of view. Keaton manages Kroc’s transformation from frustrated salesman and striver to hold-no-prisoners executive with equal amounts of subtlety and braggadocio. Here is a man who has little patience for fools and who can tap, and masterfully exploit, the dreams and aspirations of many. His eyes have the malicious and playful sparkle of a con artist. But Keaton also portrays Kroc as a man who enjoys his job, whose drive to perfection equals the McDonalds with the only difference that he thinks big. With their contrasting tempers —the more suspicious and distrustful Dick, the jovial and trusting Mac— Offerman (who, alongside J.K. Simmons, has turned into one of the most interesting and versatile character actors of the last decade) and Lynch complement each other the way brothers do, reading each other’s thought, ending each other’s sentences. Their fall, as they sign that final contract, is devastating as you realize that THEIR American dream has been betrayed and corrupted.

There is no doubt that without Kroc’s vision, McDonald’s wouldn’t be the multi-million dollar, world-dominating, diet-busting company it is today. It is a story full of meat that, thanks to the Keaton-Offerman-Lynch trifecta, achieves some degree of nuance. Their performances acknowledge the grey areas that Hancock’s direction, Siegel’s script and Burwell’s tone-deaf score seem to overlook. “The Founder” is a fascinating, if flawed, portrait of how business is done in America, of how corporate empires are born.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28787&reviewer=434
originally posted: 01/19/17 14:59:43
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Directed by
  John Lee Hancock

Written by
  Robert D. Siegel

  Michael Keaton

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