Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern
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The Founder arrives with a real lack of heat, which, considering the Oscar-calibre talent involved, is a real surprise. A prime awards season release for Michael Keaton, enjoying his hottest cinematic run in decades, and The Blind Side’s John Lee Hancock, both taking on a biopic of real-life McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, The Founder sank on a sea of underwhelmed reviews and lukewarm box office. There is, however, some very interesting stuff in here.
The Founder is a film that seems to be in conflict with its own nature. Biopics almost always celebrate the people they focus on. They may acknowledge their lesser selves at points, but watching two hours of someone you don’t like can be rough. The issue with The Founder is that it seems to be aware of this and so seeks to paint Kroc as both a symbol of American spirit, a never-say-die type of guy who won’t take no for an answer and wins the day for it, but is also a reprehensible so-and-so, who turns his back on his wife at a moment’s notice and destroys those without whom he would be nothing.
This dichotomy is the more problematic as it doesn’t feel all that natural in its construction; the narrative seems divided in two, with flashes of the darkness within, as Ray’s rising, and, when he’s on top, only intermittent moments of goodness bubbling under the surface. The whole endeavour just doesn’t seem to flow, feeling instead that perhaps a desire to tell this story in an sub-two-hour runtime resulted in a rushed experience.
Nonetheless, The Founder has some fascinating things to say about America within these fault lines. Kroc’s idea of McDonald’s being the new American church, the company an absolute giant of Capitalism, is combined with images of 50s nuclear families and teen culture in an almost subversive fashion, Hancock seeming to suggest that within organised religion there’s a business waiting to come out and exploit the everyday people who flock for both prayer and hamburgers. This, along with heart-breaking turns from Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, who play the sympathetic brothers who are exploited and destroyed by Kroc, conjures almost a parody of the typical biopic, celebrating greed, amoral attitudes and the drive to want things other people have.
The whole thing would be worse, if it weren’t for Michael Keaton, who somehow makes Kroc someone you root for. He paints a man who hasn’t lost his humanity but is almost more disturbing for it. He’ll ruin you, but buy you flowers to say sorry – a complex performance that feels better than the film constructed around it.
The Founder is a conflicted, at points fascinating, film, which feels like it bit off more than it could chew. A character study that wants to comment on the foundations of American business, it tells a story you wish it had more time to wallow in. Its intent may leave you scratching your head, but you’ll want to talk about it after.
The Founder is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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