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Director John Lee Hancock has made a career of directing biopics and has had success with The Rookie, The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks. This seems to give him the right pedigree to tell the mythical story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a milkshake mixer salesman who would eventually establish the largest fast food chain in the world, McDonalds. The Founder is set in the 1950s and ’60s and chronicles the details of the true story of the salesman from Illinois who meets the McDonald brothers of San Bernadino, California who started a revolutionary hamburger stand. Then how the partnership helps to grow the McDonalds brand across the United States, then the eventual breakdown of their relationship and Kroc’s progression to becoming the owner of the company of the infamous brand.
The founding of a fast food chain may not seem like the type of drama that garners attention from film studios, but this is McDonalds. For a company that goes to such great lengths to protect its image and brand, it is intriguing that they would the public see this less than favorable portrayal of their ‘founder.’ Also, to have one of the stars that is on an upward trajectory in Hollywood as the face of this hamburger empire makes this even more tantalizing.
Hancock’s true-to-life portrayal of the on-the-road lifestyle of the traveling salesman is an accurate depiction of the mental anguish and desperation experienced by these individuals. He is able to show why those who are cut from this cloth, like Ray Kroc, when given a sniff of potential success pursue it with everything they have. The Founder proves that ingenuity is merely a small part of the journey to achievement. In the world of business intellectual capital has to be accompanied with passion and persistence. Also, that on the road to prosperity there usually are many that will be left behind in the process, some being business associations and others being family. This representation of Ray Kroc’s journey becomes a success story that leaves its heart out on the pavement.
Michael Keaton was the perfect actor to embody the salesman who turns into a franchise owner and eventually becomes the self-proclaimed founder of McDonalds. His ability to be winsome and vulnerable and then to turn into a diabolical business mogul was a master class for any actor in developing chameleon-like abilities. He is surrounded by an exceptional cast but carries the vast majority of the screen time. John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman do provide the right foil to attempt to come against the Keaton’s tour-de-force of personality and manipulation. They give strong and sympathetic performances as the McDonald brothers and help to expose the vicious nature of the world of business.
Like many biopics, the challenge for Hancock is attempting to maintain the audience’s attention. The storyline does suffer from pacing issues. These issues can be found in the development of the true-to-life characters and are necessary for the engaging elements to work. Not all of the characters are as captivating as Kroc, but they are essential to help show the stepping stones to his success. The seasoned director does attempt to find unique elements within Kroc’s biography that has not been seen before in this genre. He is able to move through the years at a reasonable stride, but this will not appeal to the action seekers coming along to the theater.
As biopics go, this is a compelling story that will leave many less than enamored with the founder of the Golden Arches founder but does provide an engaging experience at the flicks.