As iffy with the facts as director John Lee Hancock’s The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks, this ‘Based On A True Story’ drama has been released outside America some time before it hits cinemas there in order to better qualify for Oscar nominations, and it’s easy to see why.
It’s got all the trappings of a movie they could well be throwing statuettes at because: 1) it’s all about the US of A; 2) it’s a success story, however ruthless; 3) it’s about food; 4) it comes from a filmmaker who pushed Sandra Bullock to a Best Actress award in The Blind Side; and 5) it stars Michael Keaton, who’ll probably win for this as he lost for Birdman, and because he holds the whole thing together and sees you (mostly) past the obvious fictionalisation and creeping Americana.
Keaton’s cocky Ray Kroc is an Illinois-based travelling salesman who’s rarely at home, as he’s always on the road with one can’t-lose business proposal and/or product after another. He’s introduced in 1954 trying to talk restaurant owners into purchasing a ‘multi-mixer’, but during this trip, he instead becomes intrigued with the inefficiency of burger joints, and heads hundreds of miles to San Bernadino to check out ‘McDonald’s’, a thriving family-friendly spot with great food run by brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (a clean-shaven Nick Offerman).
The siblings offer Ray some fine character quirks and a useful montage of how their business model was developed, Ray then wants in and starts raving, “Franchise, franchise, franchise… franchise!”, and soon we’re into the expected second and third acts, as Ray takes over and the (ahem) truth begins to distort. It’s also rather surprising how much Hancock, Keaton and screenwriter Robert D. Siegel are allowed to make Ray a bit of a bastard, but hey, this is America, this is business and it’s all about profit. Who cares how poorly he treats his wife Ethel (Laura Dern, hardly in it)? Why not bulldoze the McDonalds themselves and laugh at their goddamn ‘principles’? If you don’t like it, then go suck an emulsified egg!
Audiences outside the US might find this a bit hard to swallow, but there’s no doubt that Keaton is terrific, Lynch and Offerman are also strong (even if the McDonalds surely were nothing like this), and some of the ‘50s/‘60s nostalgia is gorgeous and lovingly handled. Hell, you might well find yourself longing for a far-off place where cars were huge, women wore bobby socks, businessmen were already limbering up for a GFC or two and fast food was, you know, food.
Rated M. The Founder is in cinemas now.