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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024