Sept. 19, 2017
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The Founder Review: We’re Really Only Kind of Likin’ It

The true story of McDonald’s sounds exciting, but mostly isn’t

January 25, 2017, 12:00 am

Everyone has eaten at a McDonald’s at least once, but the actual story of how the mega-chain came to exist within a few miles of wherever you happen to be right now is slightly darker than the family-friendly style they’re selling. And even if you know the name Ray Kroc—the famous CEO of McDonald’s—from whatever secondhand history lesson, The Founder gives us the unabashedly true history of his rise to fast food billionaire: He was a blindly ambitious bastard who didn’t really care who he stole from or hurt as he single-mindedly pursued his own distorted version of success.

Michael Keaton practically disappears into Kroc, and we almost root for him as the film begins. But as he devolves from seemingly decent man into megalomaniacal cutthroat, even his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) is forced to ask him when enough will be enough. “Honestly?” he asks. “Probably never.”

It’s our first clue that his desire to be a big shot borders on an unhealthy obsession. When Kroc happens upon Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) selling burgers at a then-unheard of speed, we do understand why he falls victim to his own impatient vision, but our sympathies soon fade. Within a couple years, Kroc manages to sneakily wrest control out from under the McDonald brothers and completely crushes their decent ideals and business practices; there is seemingly nothing he won’t do, even stealing a franchisee’s wife (Freaks and Geeks’ Linda Cardinelli) while inwardly believing himself to be the hero of his own story.

Though interesting enough as a semi-unknown piece of Americana, The Founder tends to lag, dwelling too long on certain elements and flat-out glossing over others. If the goal was for us to understand Kroc’s behavior, we simply don’t. As a cautionary fable on the dangers of business and the aggressively ambitious, however, it’s perfectly fine—just don’t expect to feel much of anything for its key players.

The Founder
Directed by John Lee Hancock
With Keaton, Offerman, Lynch, Dern and Cardinelli
Violet Crown,
115 min.


+ Michael Keaton; secret history is fun

- Drags in bits; nobody is particularly likable


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