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The Founder (Michael Keaton) - DVD Review

The Founder

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

MICHAEL Keaton’s career renaissance continues with The Founder, a highly engrossing character study of the man who super-sized McDonald’s into the global brand it is today.

As Ray Kroc, Keaton charts the rise and rise of an everyman entrepreneur so driven by pursuing the American Dream that he doesn’t care what it takes (or costs) to get it. Hence, what looks like a triumphant tale of the small man finding fortune, turns into a cautionary tale about greed and exploitation… something that you may not have seen coming in the early stages.

Kroc, for his part, remains a hero in his own mind – the type of individual who feeds off the rush that success brings and invites those who can keep up with him to tag along. But woe betide anyone who can’t, no matter how close they are to begin with.

Early on, Kroc is seen as the archetypal businessman. A married traveling salesman, honestly plying his trade, he gets his first big break when Dick and Mac McDonald (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) place an unexpectedly large order for the product he has otherwise struggled to sell.

Keen to find out why such a big order is necessary, Kroc travels across America to meet up with them, and is given a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their family-orientated, speed-led, one-off restaurant. Within minutes, he has realised its potential and re-approaches the brothers with the idea of a franchise.

Cautiously, they allow Kroc to become a partner and Kroc sets about opening branches in other parts of America. But as his ambition grows in line with investor potential, Kroc finds himself shackled by the ‘small-minded’ values of his partners, and so begins to find a way out of their contract in order to found his own fast food empire.

In doing so, he also places his own marriage in jeopardy as he greedily devours every opportunity placed before him.

John Lee Hancock’s film is a subtle affair in the way that it slowly shows Kroc to be a wolf among the sheep he initially appears to be helping. It’s only around the halfway mark that you realise you’re not going to like him very much.

But Keaton, for his part, maintains Kroc’s belief in himself and never plays him like a villain. Rather, he’s just doing what he believes needs to be done in order to realise his life-long ambition of success on the grandest scale. It’s a masterfully nuanced performance to add to those he has already recently given in Birdman and Spotlight.

In stark contrast is the innocence of Offerman and Lynch, whose hard working, quality-driven values are no match for Kroc’s ruthlessness. Lynch, in particular, effectively channels the slowly realised disbelief at their predicament, while Offerman wears his frustration well. They are an effectively likeable double act, whose fate provides the true tragedy underpinning Hancock’s film.

If the same sympathy cannot quite be extended to Laura Dern, as Kroc’s increasingly estranged wife, then it’s perhaps down to the failure of Robert D Siegel’s script to afford her enough time to make her role register as strongly – as, like the true story itself, Keaton’s larger-than-life character steamrollers everyone in his path, hogging the limelight and forgetting those who aren’t on his immediate radar.

In many ways, therefore, Hancock’s film arrives at a timely moment in American history; one that could just as easily serve as a metaphor for the rise to power of a certain US President. But whether you’re willing to view The Founder as an allegorical tale or not, it still serves as a gripping piece of cinema, driven by yet another powerhouse performance from leading man Keaton.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 115mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 12, 2017