I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, true stories can be a source for some of the best films on he silver screen. In today’s day and age it’s no surprise that one of the most intriguing stories is that of Ray Kroc and the beginning of an empire that is the McDonald’s fast food chain. With a powerfully talented cast, great pacing, and a strict avoidance of Hollywood tropes, “The Founder” may not be the most entertaining movie you’ll ever see, but in the style of similar films like “The Social Network” it takes a realistic and stripped down approach to telling a divisive origin story.
“The Founder” follows traveling salesman Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton, as he comes across the original San Bernardino McDonald’s restaurant owned by brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald, played by John Carroll Lynch (“American Horror Story: Freak Show”) and Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) respectably. Kroc is then introduced to their unique and, at the time, revolutionary assembly line-style layout for their restaurant and immediately sees an opportunity for growth. Kroc works with the brothers to franchise McDonald’s, a partnership that, as history tells us, eventually creates a conflict as differences in ideals come to pass. The film delves into the conflict that ensues as the two powers clash for control over the franchise.
Keaton leads the way with yet another career defining role and a top-notch performance as Kroc. As the central character of the film, he drives nearly every conflict in the story with his decisions, both good and bad, basically controlling much of the plot. That’s not to say the film is one-dimensional. John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman show off their impressive acting ranges as the McDonald brothers, bringing some of their familiar acting styles and quirks into the mix while also showing off layers of their talents we seldom see from the pair. Lynch plays his character with a sympathetic aura about him and, at times, serves as the meek and timid one of the pair while Offerman plays off the familiar characterizations many know him for, including throwbacks to his “Park & Recreation” persona, but as the movie progresses he becomes more serious and even a little bitter.
As great as the acting is the most impressive part about “The Founder” is that it works hard not to glorify or demonize anyone too much. It’s a well-balanced story that leaves a lot for the viewer to decide, including whether or not the actions of any of its characters are morally sound. Kroc’s methods may be controversial at best but it’s hard not to understand why he does what he does and it’s only when we see how this impacts the brothers that we realize there is a very thin line between the man and the monster. At the same time, while we feel for the McDonald brothers their stubbornness and unwillingness to budge on even the simplest of changes to their restaurant chain make them just as divisive, setting up a situation where the viewer really doesn’t know who to root for.
In the wrong hands this could produce, confusion, frustration, and a lack of interest, but in the very capable hands of a perfect cast and director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”, Saving Mr. Banks”) this approach gives the audience even more reason to invest in the story as a whole rather than expect the same good guy versus bad guy clichés that tie down many based-on-a-true-story films. This also allows the film to stay much closer to reality than other films of its kind and while it’s clear some creative liberties were taken, for the most part the film manages to take even the most bland details of the story and make them interesting and relatable without overindulging on creativity for the sake of a more interesting narrative.
With all that said “The Founder” is a story and a film you can truly get invested in, if you want to. While it may be a bit drawn out at times and it does take an admittedly long time for the story to come around to the point, “The Founder” does not take the easy way out. The filmmakers challenge the viewer to hate and love all the major characters and focus more on the human aspect of the story rather than drawing heavily on more established and proven Hollywood clichés. Most importantly, it makes the viewer wonder what would they do if they were in Kroc’s position or even the situation of the McDonald brothers? It’s not flawless, but there’s very little wrong with “The Founder”. In my opinion it’s one of the most down to earth, unapologetic, and intriguing biographical drama films to come around in quite some time.