Michael Keaton made a comeback with appearances in the RoboCop and Need for Speed. It didn’t exactly begin on high notes, but then he won a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for Birdman, and he hit the Academy Awards stage to celebrate the Best Picture win for Spotlight. His next effort, The Founder, has garnered some buzz, but will it be another awards contender?
Directed by John Lee Hancock of Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder recently screened for a small number of press, and the short answer to that question is, probably not. While the critics who saw the film are calling his performance “magnetic” with an “unhinged salesman’s patter,” and perhaps “the most disturbing” character of Keaton’s yet, the story itself seemed trapped in a limbo between celebrating the subject’s sleazy ways and admonishing them.
Keaton portrays Ray Kroc, not the original founder of McDonald’s, but the capitalist who helped transform it into a billion-dollar fast-food empire. Based on a screenplay by Robert D. Siegel, the film rounds out its cast with Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, Patrick Wilson, Laura Dern, B.J. Novak, and John Carroll Lynch.
The Founder was moved from its original release slot to a more awards-friendly date on December 16th before going wide on January 20th. See some of the early reactions below — and, fair warning, there are a few that made the connection to another business man that loosely rhymes with Drumpf.
Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter:
By making this ethically challenged man the film’s protagonist, director John Lee Hancock creates something a good shade or two darker than The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks, his more cheerful and wholesome previous efforts in true-life-inspired storytelling. However, Hancock’s apparently irrepressible penchant for folksy Midwestern types and perky montages dilutes any cynicism or misanthropy that might have given this material the edginess it deserves. The result is a wishy-washy take on both Kroc and McDonald’s itself, which tries to play off its timidity as fairness, balance or some such. In fact, it plays more like a film that can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be an expose of Kroc’s scheming, Cheese Burglar venality or a sly celebration of his capitalist chutzpah. No doubt, 50 years in the future, the industry will churn out biopics about Donald Trump that are just as tonally muddy and ideologically confused.
Guy Lodge, Variety:
Indeed, perhaps more than its makers could have known at the time of production, The Founder plays very much as a period piece for the immediate political present: a fable of vast self-made success gained at the expense of truth and integrity. In an America bitterly divided by its new president-elect, some viewers may well see Kroc’s story as inspiring; others will view it as positively nihilistic. That implicit moral tension, combined with a fascinating but distinctly niche focus on business strategy and property law, makes this an unexpected, commercially unpredictable digression from the helmer of such soft-centered biographical dramas as Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side, even as it shares their outward trappings of wholegrain populism.
Russell Bailie, The New Zealand Herald:
With hot-again Michael Keaton in the lead as Ray Kroc and its release delayed from earlier in the year to awards season, it would seem this is being pitched as a prestige Oscar contender. A sort of The Social Network with fries and a shake. Except, it’s not that good. It’s a bland movie that becomes less great American business saga, more mildly engaging, mildly uncomplimentary Kroc biopic.
Sandra Hall, The Sydney Morning Herald:
We feel for the brothers, but Robert Siegel’s artfully constructed script has us look at the story from Kroc’s standpoint. And this split perspective puts the film at the high end of what is fast becoming a distinguished genre in American movie-making: the forensic corporate drama. Like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Kroc is a flawed figure with a lot to answer for, yet Siegel (The Wrestler) and Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks) leads us towards this conclusion very gently.
Wenlei Ma, news.com.au:
Given the ubiquitous presence McDonald’s has in most people’s lives — from the numerous kids birthday parties to the 2am drive-through — the story of how those Golden Arches came to be the one of the most recognized symbols in the world is one you can easily invest in. And it’s not necessarily the route you would’ve expected — there are some surprises along the way. But what really drives The Founder is Keaton’s magnetic and dynamic performance. Kroc could easily have been the unequivocal villain of the story but Keaton makes you care and empathize with Kroc’s motivations. He shades in Kroc with layers of charm, insecurity and grit.
Sarah Watts, stuff.co.nz:
Hancock knows how to spin a yarn, and though the evocation of “crosses – flags – [Golden] Arches!” purported by Kroc to represent America may cause Kiwi viewers to roll their eyes, the perfect casting of John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman as the earnestly ethical McDonald brothers (who coincidentally both appeared in Fargo: the original film, and TV spin-off, respectively) keeps the story grounded and its audience invested. Nicely shot, smartly acted and efficient in its telling, The Founder may be hard to swallow for those annoyed by Americanisms, patriotism and the corporation itself. But underneath lies a fascinating origin story of one of the world’s best-known brands and a timely parable of greed, principles and the American Dream.