Director John Lee Hancock's dramatization of McDonald's real-life corporate saga and history starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the titular and disputed The Founder, is a well-acted but problematic adaptation of the all-American business story. Keaton does his best, but Hancock’s bleak version of fast food inception as written by Robert Siegel is far too straightforwardly told and entirely too focused on the duplicitous Kroc's point-of-view. It's a morally complex yet simplistically executed story about visionaries.
Ultimately, the basic problem with The Founder is how painfully conventional it is. Have you ever wondered what The Social Network or Steve Jobs would have been like if screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had decided to tell those real-life business stories 100% straightforwardly in linear fashion and entirely from only the point-of-view of Mark Zuckerberg and Jobs? That's basically The Founder in a nutshell. Keaton is a compelling lead as the cutthroat and ambitious Kroc but he and the film is severely hampered by having to tell the entire McDonald's story himself.
Only original founders, the McDonald brothers Dick and Mac played splendidly by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, get any significant narrative real estate in the film. Kroc is at first in awe of their food service vision but they quickly clash once he sets his eyes on franchising and national expansion. Their conflicts drive the film and should be more compelling but our own familiarity with McDonald's clouds the inevitable and thus undramatic outcomes.
Patrick Wilson, Linda Cardellini, and B.J. Novak all show up late in the game as key figures responsible for innovations to the McDonald's method, but they, along with many other smaller parts, only get more perspective from the closing text coda filling in gaps of important people we never get to know within the actual film. Laura Dern is also severely underserved as Kroc's long-suffering first wife whom he seems to have only a passing affection for throughout the film before his rise to glory.
The Founder is much like a meal at McDonald's. It's safe, predictable, reliable and does the job intended fairly well. It fills you with the necessary story beats and features a great cast of actors and ingredients but fails to inspire much beyond that. Hancock, Siegel, and Keaton do an okay if admirable job telling viewers the basic nuts and bolts of McDonald's fascinating and problematic history from a singular perspective. It's a middling yet uncomplicated biopic of a clearly very complicated figure.
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