With restaurants in 119 countries and around 68 million customers daily, McDonald’s is one of the most recognisable brands on earth, and the chain’s market cap of $US110.1 billion speaks for itself. The story of how McDonald’s came to be the world’s largest restaurant chain is downright fascinating, the film – not so much. The Founder finds Michael Keaton playing Ray Kroc, the man who joined the business in ’54 and – to put it simply – went about muscling out original owners, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald.
When it comes to the plot, The Founder has various similarities to The Social Network. Both film’s adapt a true story and depict an American male being brought into a soon-to-be-huge business, and both showed us the repercussions of said man’s takeover. But while David Fincher took to his real-life story with well-considered liberties, a heavy dose of style and a potent screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, The Founder approaches this incredible true story with a calmness that lessens the impact, adequate, mostly uninspired direction from John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), and a screenplay happy to sprinkle facts and tick off mainstream pleasantries.
Screenwriter Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler) has his eye firmly ““ almost too firmly – on Kroc, a man in his 50s who has been trying to make it in big business for years upon years, a man determined and oh-so hungry for success. We aren’t immediately made aware of just how determined Kroc is to capture that elusive American dream, and Siegel’s slow reveal of the man’s true persona and capabilities is well structured.
Alas, while Kroc is a nicely written lead character, it’s the various beats and lack of particular focus that hinders the overall screenplay. After a solid first quarter that takes us through Kroc’s discovery of McDonald’s and his early relationship with the brothers (good performances from Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), the film plods along; occasionally strong moments scattered across an unsurprising narrative build. We’re provided various glimpses of plot strands that could have served the film better had they been given focus, such as his relationship (or lack thereof) with his wife (Laura Dern), his enticement with Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), and the health of a McDonald brother.
Although the story itself contains more than enough twists and plot developments to keep audience members mostly engaged, Hancock and Siegel ultimately seem content to take the road most traveled with almost every development. The attempt to inject humour into various scenes comes across as odd, and the incessant reliance on Carter Burwell’s dialed-up score borders on infuriating. There’s simply little to work up any emotion, apart from the interest that comes from watching an actor like Keaton put in a confident turn.
Keaton’s performance is what primarily holds The Founder afloat. The actor is on a roll, and were it not for the film’s shortcomings, he would have yet another strong project on his hands here. As Kroc, Keaton navigates the dodgy car salesman-type persona with the edgier, slightly off-kilter angle he’s tackled so well in the past. It isn’t always obvious, but Kroc is an unlikeable, occasionally even detestable character. So kudos go to Keaton for ensuring there’s a certain charisma and fun to his me-above-all attitude, holding the film’s key saving grace from becoming a one-dimensional money-grabber.
The real-life story being adapted holds the potential for a truly riveting film, but the opportunities feel mostly squandered here. A sharper, more focused screenplay and a director willing to spice things up a little could have made The Founder so much more.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10