“The Founder” Review: Michael Keaton is the Wolf of Lee Street

By Daniel Reif

John Lee Hancock’s, The Founder, begins with a pep talk, finishes with one. The pep talk is brought to you by an exciting persona. The persona’s smile hides an obsessed focus on one goal: to succeed. The film manipulates you to invest time in one man’s slimy, modest-to-millions gift of the “American dream”. It belittles the conventional “hero’s journey” through a cynical pounding of corporate beginnings, and singles in on the magnetic capitalist behind its origin story.

You’ve seen this movie before. The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s 2013 biopic (starring Leo DiCaprio as 90s Manhattan’s rags-to-unseen-riches, Jordan Belfort), has gained contemporary legend by rolling copy cats. Present’s Gold (lead by Wolf of Wall Street co-star, Matthew McConaughey), and last year’s, War Dogs (lead by also Wolf of Wall Street co-star, Jonah Hill), wear as flicks most familiar to the great Scorsese film about underdog greed. The Founder is, therefore, not great itself…but acceptable, because it wears a different brand of Americana.

Michael Keaton. 2016. The Weinstein Co/Film Nation

Michael Keaton. 2016. The Weinstein Co/Film Nation

Robert D. Siegel’s script trades Scorsese’s modern New York for retro, small-town US. Trades rip-fire dark comedy for wise-crack drama. Wunderkind, Belfort, is traded for middle-aged late bloomer, Ray Kroc. Belfort’s fraudulent stock firm is traded for the world’s most successful food franchise. Gluttonous, urban abundance is traded for familial, rural enterprise.

Michael Keaton plays two faces- the cunning underdog- in a true, stripped-down tale of greed, power, and persistence. In the early 1950’s, Ray Kroc operated the afloat, “Prince Castle” sales company; staffed by him and his assistant, June Martino (Kate Kneeland). Ray’s day-to-day saw him drive across the Mid-West planes, stopping off at interstate burger spots in search of clients for his current product, a high-powered milkshake mixer. His crutch, pitching technique of analogizing the “chicken or the egg” wasn’t efficient enough to round up a bustling clientele distracted by low-level food service; unfortunately common for the time’s typical drive-ins. He was never home, and his infrequent arrivals (on top of his short-lived business ventures), disillusioned his supportive wife (Laura Dern). Ray did have a comfy home, a country club membership, and middle-class structure, but barely held it up by enough sells. Held up by the pure persistence reminded to him by lectured, self-motivative records. He is the underdog who will always bring home something… and the cunning sales man who must have something more.

One day, Ray receives an oddly large order for eight of his machines from a burger joint in San Bernardino, California. Characteristic curiosity takes the Illinois man down a road trip to the desert city in So Cal, where he meets destiny disguised as an impressive enterprise.

2016. The Weinstein Co./Film Nation

2016. The Weinstein Co./Film Nation

When the casually-suited man drives up to the lot of “McDonalds”, the sky above is bluest. A long line of eager patrons appetites his curiosity. Their patience for a walk-up window confuses his impatient experience with drive-in waiters, but entices a desire to join. When he joins, a patron eases his impatience with the best particular yet- the line is fast! To his awe, the line is fast because his cheeseburger, fries, and shake, are ready as the 35 cents for his order.

The artists behind this innovative site now enter a picture drawn by another fellow. In a film to become about couples, we meet our favorite early on.

Inseparable brothers and business partners, “Mac” and “Dick McDonald”, are endearing in their differences. As Mac, John Carroll Lynch is the dreamer. As Dick, Nick Offerman is the brains. As the McDonalds Brothers, they have spent an exciting adulthood as star-eyed devotees to their area’s famous surroundings. Mac’s optimistic hard-work, and Dick’s grounded intuition, have found them through many ventures themselves; up and down coasters similar to Ray’s. Their moment of zen: their undeniable loyalty and visionary ambition finally reward them with Dick’s divine idea for “burgers made in 30 seconds… not 30 minutes.” When the brothers introduce the curious man to an intricate kitchen of multiple young staffs monitoring each place in a dance of grilling, dressing, and potato-frying devices (dubbed “The Speedee System”), this vision becomes real to Ray, himself. Kroc twists the dynamic traditionalists into a contract to expand. As goes with this fable, a long series of empirical grandstands begin.

Michael Keaton. 2016. The Weinstein Co./Film Nation

Michael Keaton. 2016. The Weinstein Co./Film Nation

John Lee Hancock’s vision will lounge you. A sensual, suburban period sprinkles a different delight to our watch. Desert-hot towns, two-story brick buildings, and vintage Fords introduce us to the molds of Kroc’s beginnings; the hair gel, oldies, dresses, and good-ole’ country dreamin’, carry the film’s tunes. As we familiarize with a common critique of the American Dream, mid-century design lays descriptive ground for the golden-arched dream of the driving man. Michael Corenblith (production designer on Hancock’s The Blind Side) taps well into The Founder’s decorative embrace; costume designer, Daniel Orlandi, harmonizes this period’s charm by carving out a popping, rise-to-wealth of a jerk. Tuxedo ambiance is a visually sharp turn from sun-soaked starts, and John Schwartzman’s cinematography hauls in all the cute vintage with humility.

Pretty, yet when Ray Kroc opens McDonalds’ now infamous “first” location on Lee Street in Des Plaines, you would wish the revolutionary “Speedee” system of food service wouldn’t sell so quickly. A corale of montages tell the founding of “McDonalds Corporation”. A rubric shapes the film with Ray Kroc life points; a critical, but ultimately summed biography. Even though he’s results-driven by character, his results are given to us with ease. Ray’s weaseling unfold of franchises, behind a compelling business plan (centered around liberating the entrepreneurial spirit of young marriages), stack the trophies high and fast; breathlessly mapping the years of cash flow, wealthy social circling, and the top prize of a slick, stunning Linda Cardellini as the second wife. Siegel’s script broadly covers an, otherwise, inviting tale about the devious theft of two brothers’ art for one man’s unflinching desire of Capitalistic enthronement.

Linda Cardellini and Michael Keaton. 2016. The Weinstein Co./Film Nation

Linda Cardellini and Michael Keaton. 2016. The Weinstein Co./Film Nation

All said, this Scorsese-tailored road trip through back-breaking enterprise, can still hit a pit stop. Cardellini gets little material to teethe by way of role, but she gets the fair share of wit. Michael Keaton is casted cute to type. The magnetic aggressor finds a partner in the star’s personalistic nature, and in so, Keaton finds the best in his associates, such as the comedically sound, Offerman, and the adorable Lynch.

The Founder is a funny flick; a fulfilling pro in the film’s aspired satire. You can enjoy it for what its worth: a casual chain burger joint; pleasurable dining made trite by its formula.


The film opens nationwide today.

Directed by John Lee Hancock, Screenplay by Robert D. Siegel – 2016 (2017 wide release)- Film Nation Entertainment/The Weinstein Company – 1hr 55m

January 19, 2017

Will you see The Founder this weekend? Let Daniel know! Social media links in Team section.