Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Billions and billions served.*
That’s the motto under those iconic Golden Arches that dot our modern day landscape. It’s part of the pastiche of Americana. But behind the family-friendly facade of the McDonalds corporation, there’s a deep rooted evil that led to its success – a David and Goliath-esque tale filled with greed, ego and deception. Director John Lee Hancock’s THE FOUNDER gifts us with keen insight into the travails behind America’s most beloved restaurant. With its attractively snappy pace (shocking since Hancock isn’t known for his brevity), well-written characters (courtesy of screenwriter Robert D. Siegel), and a solid turn from Michael Keaton, this entertaining, enthralling biopic serves up a terrifically digestible cinematic meal.
Little did Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) know that their lives would change irrevocably when they called up Ray Kroc (Keaton) to place an order for a milkshake mixer. The tenacious traveling salesman saw a guiding light pointing toward fortune atop the brothers’ singular burger shack in San Bernadino, California. And with his hustle game on point, Kroc convinces them to turn their small business into a global empire, but it comes at a cost. Through a series of ethically underhanded dealings, a megalomaniacal Kroc pulls the rug out from underneath them just when the business begins to skyrocket.
Hancock, along with editor Robert Frazen, do a fantastic job at keeping the momentum moving forward and pacing electric. They let scenes breathe without lingering too long. Montages are artistically configured, giving a crisp energy to anything that might cause the picture to drag. Unlike his previous features, Hancock also experiments a smidge, expanding his visual storytelling skills – most evident during Mac’s hospital scene when the brothers are relegated to the left corner of the frame, indicating they’ve been sidelined. He also bookends the film on Ray practicing his pitches with extreme close-ups on Keaton, evocative of Ray’s power to draw the audience in with his schpiel. There are also subtleties in the camera placement, specifically when Kroc returns to bed after a late night phone call from Joan and we see Ethel’s nuanced reaction – a testament to Laura Dern’s skills to play the moment internally.
Keaton does a bang-up job playing the titular Trump-esque character without going overboard. He manages to make the audience root for this rather underhanded, morally compromised guy while feeling seedy about having done so. Keaton, this modern era’s most underrated actor, brings out the strengths of Siegel’s script, portraying Kroc in a light where we see him wrestle with both sides – business first/ humanity later. Keaton takes us through the underdog-turned-bully arc with the greatest of ease. We feel for him when the bank loan agents remember and laugh at him for his shady past. We also feel for him when he’s figuring out how to make the franchises successful. We also laugh at Kroc’s audacity when he’s being a jerk to the brothers, hanging up the phone, yelling at them for not approving things fast enough. The irony that the brothers are slow to make decisions in the fast-food market isn’t lost on us. The dichotomy of later scenes being simultaneously funny and heartbreaking resounds.
Perhaps if there is a downfall of the picture, it’s that it could’ve benefitted more from a blunt-edged satirical tone rather than the subdued one that’s there – like a dark comedy similar to a TO DIE FOR vibe. Though, as is, this is good storytelling served up crisp and salty.
THE FOUNDER opens on December 9 exclusively at ArcLight Cinemas Hollywood. It also plays December 16 for a limited release/ qualifying run. It opens wide on January 20.
*signage depends on location