The Founder
dir John Lee Hancock
scr Robert Siegel
prd Don Handfield, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Ryder
with Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, BJ Novak, Justin Randell Brooke, Katie Kneeland, Andrew Benator, Griff Furst, Steve Coulter
release US 16.Dec.16, UK 17.Feb.17
16/US Weinstein 1h15
The Founder
Open for business: Keaton

offerman dern cardellini
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Founder The story of McDonald's entrepreneur Ray Kroc is told with remarkably little sentimentality in this sometimes ruthlessly honest biopic. The title is ironic, as Kroc essentially stole the idea and the name from the eponymous brothers, something the film never sugar-coats. It's also strikingly well played by Michael Keaton and the cast.

In the American Midwest in 1954, Ray (Keaton) is trying to convince burger joints that they'll profit by speeding up service. Then he hears about a successful experiment in a small town east of Los Angeles. Run efficiently by brothers Dick and Mac (Offerman and Lynch), McDonald's has dramatically simplified the entire process. Striking a deal to use their blueprint, Ray returns to Chicago to launch an expanding chain of franchise restaurants. Then a businessman (Novak) shows him how to properly make money, and Ray realises that he'll have to push the brothers out.

The film has a blackly comical edge, led by Keaton's sparkling performance as an old-fashioned huckster. He wins everyone over with his charm, including the movie audience, even though we see his dark side. The strongest supporting role belongs to Dern as his long-suffering wife Ethel, a fragile woman who is smart enough to see trouble brewing but helpless to do anything about it. This is in contrast to Cardellini's less-defined Joan, who flirts with Ray right in front of her husband (Wilson), Ray's client.

Screenwriter Siegel has fun revealing Ray's ambition, and Keaton plays him like a shark in sheep's clothing. It's fascinating to watch the global behemoth begin to take shape as Ray borrows ideas from everyone he meets, working out ways to maximise both money and control. His shift from failed salesman to the leader of an empire is compelling and more than a little scary, most importantly as it details the moral relativism required to succeed on this scale.

Hancock directs the film with a bright, colourful sheen and not too much subtext. The story is told in a straightforward way with plenty of humorous touches and a brisk sense of timing in each terse exchange. What it has to say about American capitalism should be rather shocking, but most businessmen will probably see this as a textbook case of seeing a gap in the market and exploiting it for maximum profit. Thousands may have tried to succeed on this level, but the fact remains that this one man won it all.

cert 12 themes, language 7.Dec.16

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