By Christian DiMartino
Ah, it’s good to have Michael Keaton back.
I’ve been a Michael Keaton fan since childhood, where I first laid eyes upon Batman and Beetlejuice. But there was a good while there where his career was in limbo. Then, like magic, Birdman happened, in a performance that should’ve won him an Oscar (hell I would’ve given him an Oscar for Beetlejuice), and since then, let’s just say, he keeps bringing out the best in himself.
Which now leads us to john Lee Hancock’s The Founder, a fascinating and richly entertaining film that often plays like the 1950s, fast-food version of The Social Network, featuring a performance by Keaton that is nothing short of genius. This film may be eligible for the Oscars this year. Or it may not. No clue, it remains to be seen. What is known though is that Keaton does deserve some sort of recognition here, because what he does here is quite tricky.
Keaton plays Ray Kroc, an optimist who, when we first see him, is desperately trying to get his milkshake machine off the ground. He is rejected by restaurant after restaurant, but he never gives up. Even though he’ll occasionally take swigs of alcohol afterwards. Soon though, opportunity comes knocking in the form of the McDonald brothers (played wonderfully by Nick Offerman and John Carrol Lynch), who offer to not just buy six of his machines, but 8, for their restaurant, McDonalds.
Curious and caught offguard, he travels to California to see what McDonalds is all about. And within minutes, he’s in love and fascinated. Picture McDonalds today. Yeah, this isn’t it. Things move like clockwork there. The food is ready within minutes, and all of the employees are practically in an assembly line. With McDonalds, Kroc sees an opportunity. He suggests that the McDonald brothers franchise the damn thing.
Soon enough, that’s just what happens. Ray keeps expanding and expanding McDonalds, while the McDonalds just kind of sit back in awe and bafflement, and while Ray’s wife (Laura Dern) sits neglected in the sidelines. What The Founder really pulls off though is how Kroc took McDonalds and transformed it into what it is today, for better or worse, causing madness between everyone involved.
Hancock, who made the overrated The Blind Side and the underrated Saving Mr. Banks, does a splendid job of making McDonalds look like the place to be. it looks like an actual restaurant, rather than the artery clogging, fat fest that we know of today (I’m not a hater, trust me). He also has a lot of material to juggle here, and for the most part does it marvelously.
Dern doesn’t get a lot to do here. While she’s in it, she’s splendid as always. Yet it can feel like a waste. Then again though, this isn’t her story. This is Kroc’s, and what an interesting story it is.
I shouldn’t have liked Kroc, and at times, I didn’t want to. But yet there’s something about what Keaton does here. I’m not sure if its charm or good salesman ship, but Keaton hits this role out of the park every step of the way. Kroc is a jerk, yes. Yet when it all comes down to it, McDonalds wouldn’t be McDonalds if not for him. He saw more opportunity in McDonalds than the McDonalds brothers did, and he took it.
The Founder is also, in its own ways, kind of tragic. What evolves here is somewhat winning, but at the same moment, somewhat bleak. That’s the way the cookie crumbles I guess.
It may be a tad emotionally icy, especially since you’ll feel somewhat indifferent on Kroc. But do you know what I did as soon as the credits rolled? I went to McDonalds. Yep. Even after decades, and after his death, Kroc is still one helluva salesman, and that right there is why this story needed to be told.
As for Keaton’s performance, budabupbupbah: I’m loving it.