DIR: John Lee Hancock • WRI: Robert D. Siegel • PRO: Don Handfield, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Ryder • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Robert Frazen • DES: Michael Corenblith• MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, Patrick Wilson, Michael Keaton
With the onslaught of Marvel madness, Star Wars, and revisionist animation, it came as somewhat a surprise that Disney studios released Saving Mr. Banks back in 2013. Aimed at a much older audience than Disney’s usual demographic, it told the story behind the troubled back-and-forth relationship between Walt and P.L. Travers over creative control on the production of Mary Poppins. Although receiving positive reviews and starring Tom Hanks in a role he was born to play, many were quick to point out that John Lee Hancock’s ending greatly differed to what was historically true; bearing the signs of a studio mandate as P.L. Travers cried happily with what Walt Disney had done to Travers’ creation without her knowledge. In many ways, The Founder is Hancock’s successor to the story of Mary Poppins but improving on almost all of the shortcomings of its predecessor. The Founder proves to be a Disney film outside of Disney’s control and the results make for a narrative that packs as much punch as last year’s The Big Short.
Despite the global dominance of the McDonald’s food industry, very few actually know of the origins of America’s first successful fast-food chain. The Founder stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, during his time as a travelling salesman to various drive-ins around the states. With little success, he receives a call from the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and instantly becomes enthralled with the efficient system the brothers have devised for their Californian diner. Quick to convince them to strike a deal with him, Ray finds himself leading McDonalds into a franchise across the east coast and, eventually, the nation. However, as the chain continues to expand, the McDonald brothers find themselves apprehensive to Ray’s methods, as he quickly starts to deviate further and further from the ethos of their original restaurant. Likewise, as McDonald’s becomes a multi-million dollar organization, Ray considers his legal obligations to the brothers increasingly redundant, consequently creating a series of betrayals and ruthless persistence both personal and financial.
Admittedly, The Founder’s biggest flaw is its tone. Employing a style similar to the classic melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Hancock’s presentation of McDonald’s as a family restaurant, accompanied with shimmering bells and sunny lighting and bright pastel colours, can make even the slightest cynic groan at the glorification on display. Ray doesn’t so much convince the brothers that they should create a franchise for themselves, but “for your country. Do it for America.” Such unapologetic capitalism is rampant throughout. The remnants of Disney’s effervescent style linger throughout The Founder and a person’s tolerance for the American 50s as it was in Grease presents the biggest obstacle to someone’s enjoyment of the film overall.
It’s an unwelcoming clean style that proves to be a necessary evil to the tale of Ray Kroc. Michael Keaton is magnetic in the lead role, continuing to prove his charismatic abilities on screen since his return to the spotlight. The business-centric language loses its languid clunk through his delivery and the supporting cast of Laura Dern and Patrick Wilson among others help to elevate Keaton into a villainous status.
While The Founder follows the usual beats of films depicting the vices of business and wealth, it distinguishes itself through a brilliant final act where the wholesome kindness that motivates Kroc is thoroughly undermined. It becomes an interesting parable of self-deception and insidiousness that definitely holds currency in modern American culture, allowing some to possibly draw comparisons to the nation’s current president. As the actual Roy Kroc explains during the final credits, what matters to the public is neither the ethics nor the production, but a brand. A brand that sounds familial and wholesome just by its name alone. And that’s exactly what the name McDonald’s has provided for over 60 years.
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The Founder is released 17th February 2017
The Founder – Official Website