Monday, June 12, 2017

Now on Netflix: The Founder (2016)

The Founder (2016) - Directed by John Lee Hancock; Written by Robert Siegel; Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson.

By Kenny Howell

Ray Kroc was a giant asshole apparently.

He franchised the restaurant McDonald's from two brothers in San Bernadino, California, made some changes to their highly efficient operation, then shut the guys out of the fortune that fast food giant eventually made.

He recognized that fact and just kept on going. That makes it weird that the film about him sets itself up as an inspirational story. They even got John Lee Hancock, the man that directed The Rookie, The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks.

But The Founder is far from inspirational. It is the portrait of a relentlessly persistent man that was going to find success even if he had to stomp on the toes of the people that got him there. That's probably why this film, which was setting itself up as an Oscar contender, quietly was released with almost no fan fare, and pushed out quickly. I don't know if that is because McDonald's didn't like the portrayal of its "founder" or just because audiences had a tough time connecting with a guy that was unsympathetic and money hungry to the point that he was unlikable. Probably the latter, and that is where I think I part ways. I think The Founder takes an interesting shot at breaking the inspirational story narrative, and showing you the darker side of drive. Kroc wasn't a monster, but he screwed some people over on way to his success.

The film starts as Kroc, played by Michael Keaton (Spotlight) is selling a new milkshake machine to drive in diners all over the midwest. He hears of a place in California that wants the milkshake machines, a place called McDonald's. It is run by two brothers and their process is revolutionary. They stripped down the menu to just the few things that sold well, redesigned the store to have it run like a machine, and the result was people getting their burgers and fries in 30 seconds instead of 30 minutes.

Kroc was amazed by this and instantly saw the opportunity. He got the brothers to agree, through much objection, to let him take their model to where he was from in the midwest. He opened a store in Des Plaines, Illinois, and from there it exploded. But success could only take him so far. To get to where he is today, he had to wrestle control away from the brothers. And from there, all sympathy for Kroc goes out the window.

It's an interesting line The Founder has to walk because the movie is structured as an inspirational biopic, but we slowly lose the ability to want Kroc to succeed over the course of the movie. I admire the effort of trying to change the way things are done because Hancock is definitely testing the audience on how long they can stick with this guy. For me, the story itself was so engrossing, seeing the lengths that this guy would go to succeed and showing how something that is iconic to the capitalist system is built on screwing other people over. That's not to mention what isn't mentioned in the movie, the health risk to people this newly quickly accessible food poised to the general public. It's a shame that it didn't connect with audiences, but I get why. It leaves people with an empty feeling that something is very unjust. But maybe that is what we should feel every once awhile and be reminded just exactly why.

The Founder is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ***1/2

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