The Founder tells one of the greatest stories in the history of American business…so why isn’t it a better movie? Michael Keaton is in top form as Ray Kroc, a perpetually struggling salesman with a sketchy grasp of ethics. He comes upon the ambitious, hard-working McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) who have developed a clever plan for serving wholesome fast food quickly and efficiently, and before you can say “happy meal” he forces himself into their lives as a business partner. The rest of the story isn’t pretty, to put it mildly.
The most obvious reason The Founder left me cold is that Kroc isn’t a likable character, but there’s something more than that. Robert Spiegel’s screenplay, and John Lee Hancock’s direction, are straightforward to a fault. The film contains no irony–a quality I usually admire–but in this case it cries out for a touch of social commentary or at least a point of view. Spiegel and Hancock leave it to us to decide what we think of Kroc and his manipulative nature. I’d love to see this same material through a different prism. Watch a reality-based movie like I Love You, Phillip Morris to see how a true story can be the foundation for a more imaginative and satisfying result.
The cast is surely not at fault. Keaton is supported by a first-rate ensemble, including Lynch, Offerman (a more versatile actor than he gets credit for), Laura Dern, B.J. Novak, Linda Cardellini, and Patrick Wilson. Once again, Michael Corenblith (who’s worked with director Hancock several times, having rebuilt the Alamo and reconstituted 1960s-era Disneyland for Saving Mr. Banks) works his magic to make us feel like we’ve traveled back in time more than half a century.
Unfortunately the movie left me wanting. It seemed like a sure-fire story on the surface, which just proves how many things can go wrong from conception to execution. The Founder is as forgettable as a fast-food hamburger.