This is not a review of John Lee Hancock‘s The Founder (Weinstein Co., 12.16), which I saw the other day but can’t write about yet. I’m allowed to tweet stuff but it’ll take too many characters to say what I’m thinking so I’m trying something a little different.
The Founder is basically the story of how the legendary Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) persuaded the earnest, slightly doltish, small-time-thinking McDonald brothers (Dick and Mick, respectively played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) to let him franchise their small fast-food business and turn it into a super-sized empire. But more generally it’s a nuts-and-bolts story about what a scramble it is to grow a business and then stay afloat with all the serpents snapping at your heels.
I wrote earlier this year that Robert Siegel‘s script is “a downish portrait of dog-eat-dog entrepenurial capitalism — a movie that basically says ‘sometimes it takes a pushy, manipulative shithead to orchestrate a big success.'” Which is often true in business and is a little bit true in this context, but not entirely. And I was wrong about the “downish” part. The Founder is mainly dutiful.
The truth (and again, this not a review but an ethical side-riff) is that Keaton’s Kroc is not a shithead, but just a hungry, wily go-getter who believes in the organizational basics that made McDonald’s a hit during its early California years (1940 to ’54) and who has the drive and the smarts to build it into a major money-maker. Kroc may not be the most ardently “likable” protagonist I’ve ever hung with, but he isn’t exactly “unlikable” either. Your heart is basically with him, and I was surprised to feel this way after having nursed vaguely unpleasant thoughts about the guy (scrappy Republican, Nixon and Reagan supporter) my entire life.
And Keaton turns the key in just the right way. He doesn’t try to win you over but he doesn’t play Ray as a bad guy either — he plays it somewhere in between, and it’s that “in between” thing that makes The Founder feel quietly fascinating. It allows you to root for a not-so-nice-but-at-the-same-time-not-so-bad guy without feeling too conflicted.
Review-ish: You know who is unlikable? Offerman’s Dick McDonald — a guy who’s always complaining, always frowning or bitching about something, always a stopper. The bottom line is that Dick doesn’t get it and neither does Mac, but Ray does. And to my great surprise I found myself taking Ray’s side and even chucking when he tells Dick to go fuck himself in Act Three. Yes, Ray is a bit of a prick but not a monster. Being a small businessman myself I understand where he’s coming from, and while he’s a little shifty here and there I can’t condemn him all that strongly.
The Founder is smart, absorbing, realistic and mild-mannered. Nobody goes nuts or screams or slugs anyone. No car crashes, no fucking, no fart jokes, no temper tantrums, no squealing tires, no belly laughs, no heavyosity. It’s just a straight-dealing, no b.s. real-life saga about an American success story. Dogged, bare bones, focused — a film that lays its cards on the table and doesn’t fool around.
The Founder is basically Keaton’s show with B.J. Novak and Linda Cardellini delivering the strongest supporting performances as the late McDonald’s CEO Harry J. Sonneborn and Kroc’s second wife, Joan Smith.
See what I mean about Twitter not affording enough characters to allow me to say what I wanted to say?