The Herald Reviews: The Founder

The Founder is served up in scintillating fashion – a take-no-prisoners tale of grabbing the American Dream by the throat, while equal-parts an origin story of the rise of the mecca of the fast food industry.


Considering the fact that Michael Keaton’s original claim to fame stems from one of popular cultures most established heroes, it’d perhaps teeter on the ironic side that his most recent outing, playing an unscrupulous and at times cold shyster, sees him reach rarefied heights of his proven acting prowess.

Make no mistake about it, The Founder lives and dies on the shoulders of its lead, and the recently resurgent Keaton is more than up to the task of shouldering the load of the film as the man who put the ‘M’ in McDonald’s millions Ray Kroc.

In favour of a Cole’s Notes version of the plot-line, The Founder is the real-life retelling of Kroc’s initial meeting with McDonald’s creators Maurice “Mac” McDonald and the much more reserved and by-the-numbers Richard “Dick” McDonald, played with an unbias charm by the pair of John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, and subsequent quest to take what he sees as  the future gold-mine of the food service world to then unseen heights. But of course we all know how that turns out. McDonald’s is now serving 1 per cent of the Earth’s population by the day, but in this case it is more the journey than the foregone destination.

Keaton’s ascension from desperate and down-on-his-luck businessman and peddler of get-rich-quick-schemes to mogul seemingly overnight within the course of the film is finely crafted by director John Lee Hancock, previously known for his feel-good family fare The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks.

While there is a certain amount of intrigue and undeniable charm in watching the now mecca of the fast-food world rocket from mom and pop style business to franchise within the course of the picture, it is Keaton’s almost ruthless portrayal of Kroc that steals the show.

Within the course of the 115 minute biopic Kroc goes from shill to saviour of middle-America, from known failure to superstar status. He does this, and perhaps with a certain level of relish, while adopting a take no prisoners, dog-eat dog mantra. His marriage to second wife Ethel Fleming (played with a cutting pain by the fantastic Laura Dern), previous partnerships, and perhaps even his own misguided morale code all fall by the wayside in the name of progress and the almighty dollar.

It is there in which The Founder really finds its legs, as less a quirky ascension-story of the rise of a worldwide phenomena, and more of a cautionary tale of the cost of fulfilling the ‘American Dream.’ Kroc gets everything he ever dreamed of and then some, but does the cost outweigh the collateral damage?

Regardless of morale ambiguity and lingering questions, The Founder is fun, at times sobering, and always entertaining. It may even make you think a little differently the next time you cross the threshold of those golden arches in your neighbourhood.

The Founder is in theatres now in select locations across Canada

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