The cast, led by Michael Keaton, finds plenty of moments to shine, but you’re never quite sure what this movie thinks of Ray Kroc. Rating: 2-and-a-half stars out of 4.
Watching “The Founder,” a biopic about fast-food magnate Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), leaves you vaguely unsettled; you wonder, as you might after a McDonald’s-burger dinner, if there shouldn’t have been a little bit more.
Set in the 1950s and filmed in Norman Rockwell-esque dappled light, the story begins with a 50-something Kroc working as a traveling milkshake-machine salesman, neglecting his ever-sighing wife (Laura Dern) and looking out for the Next Big Thing. He finds it in a celestially sparkling burger joint in San Bernardino — a place so clean it seems like angels dance on the countertops — run by a pair of folksy, hardworking brothers named Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald. Before you can say “franchise,” sly-eyed Ray’s thrusting a contract at them — and all of us who grew up on Happy Meals know exactly where this is going.
It’s a curious mixture of business-hero portrait and man-who-lost-his-soul cautionary tale, and you’re never quite sure exactly what this movie thinks of Kroc, who’s portrayed by Keaton as a slick fellow with big ideas and a chilly way of screwing over those who eventually get in his way. As he did in “Saving Mr. Banks,” director John Lee Hancock gets caught up in making a not-so-sweet story look pretty as a picture, and “The Founder” is full of swelling music, shafts of sunlight and shots of Kroc reverently fondling dirt at franchise sites. Ray paints a picture of fast-food restaurants as an all-American haven of nourishment and fellowship (like Peggy’s “Family Supper at Burger Chef” pitch in the final “Mad Men” season). Keaton, though, keeps us guessing as to whether Ray believes it.
Movie Review ★★½
‘The Founder,’ with Michael Keaton, John Carroll Lynch, Nick Offerman, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak. Directed by John Lee Hancock, from a screenplay by Robert Siegel. 115 minutes. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. Several theaters.
Nonetheless, the details of the story are often fascinating (you’ll learn a lot about burger production), and the cast find plenty of moments to shine. I particularly liked the way Lynch and Offerman’s voices seem to mirror and echo each other, and how Patrick Wilson, as franchisee Rollie Smith, develops a funny nervousness when Ray gets introduced to Rollie’s wife Joan (Linda Cardellini) — he sees what’s happening and is simultaneously determined not to see it. And watch Keaton as he first beholds an early prototype for the Golden Arches. He stares, transfixed, like he’s seen a vision.
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