This morning Hollywood Reporter columnist and Founder fan Scott Feinberg tweeted the following: “The Founder is a great movie featuring an incredible performance by Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc. Why aren’t more people talking about this??”
My cleaned-up reply: “Because most people like their moral-ethical dramas to adhere to a black and white scheme, and The Founder boldly refuses to do this. It treads a fine ethical edge, allowing you to root for Keaton’s ‘bad guy’ despite reservations. It’s bravely refusing to cast judgment upon a hustler you can half-sympathize with, and at the same time allowing you to conclude that the McDonald brothers were stoppers who didn’t get it. And some viewers are uncomfortable with a film that half-endorses a finagling shithead while half-disapproving of the nice, decent guys.
“Speaking as a small businessman, I was frankly more on Ray Kroc’s side than the dorky, slowboat McDonald brothers, and I generally hate Republicans as a rule. I didn’t feel all that wonderful about taking Kroc’s side, but I couldn’t get behind the brothers. You have to work hard and push the rock uphill and play your cards wisely to stay alive in this world.”
I explained things more thoroughly in an 11.14 post: “The truth 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.
“You know who is unlikable? Nick 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.”