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The Founder review: Michael Keaton is outstanding in this true story of the origins of the fast food joint with the big golden arches.

The Founder review by Paul Heath, February 2017.

The Founder review
The Founder review

Michael Keaton probably deserves more in terms of awards recognition for his work on this new film documenting the early days of fast food giant McDonald’s.

In The Founder, Keaton plays the character of the title Ray Kroc, an Illinois product salesman from middle America who we find attempting to sell milk shake makers to whoever shows the tiniest prospect of purchasing one. One of those business who sure could use one is the Mac and Dick McDonald, owners of a small, independent food restaurant in Southern California in the 1950s. When the two owners show interest in buying at least a few of the new machines, Kroc decides to visit their restaurant in person and is subsequently blown-away from its ambition, new found gap in the market its hoards and hoards of hungry customers. Over time, Kroc manoeuvres himself into a position where is able to franchise the name and open further branches across America, and ultimately the world. The Founder, directed by John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks), charts that journey, the hurdles in the way, and the moves Kroc has to pull in order to turn the McDonald’s brand into the billion-dollar industry as we know it today.

The Founder review
The Founder review

Hancock has, over the last few years, crafted a trio of films, this one included, all based on fact, that are absolutely solid in their execution, featuring truly brilliant performances from its leads. It began in 2009 with the film that would see Sandra Bullock pick up a golden statuette for The Blind Side, and continue on to 2013 for the sentimental trip back to the world of Mary Poppins for Saving Mr. Banks. Despite his work, Hancock, for me, remains one the unjustly, un-celebrated filmmakers of the last decade as he continues that solid works with this, an involving account of the origins of a dynasty that is essentially ‘Banks’ meets Wall Street, by way of The Social Network (of sorts).

As well as Hancock completing a cinematic hat-trick of gems, The Founder‘s lead in Michael Keaton also rounds off a trio of movies that (re)secured his status as one of Hollywood’s top players – a run that began with his Oscar-winning turn in Birdman just two short years ago, and then onto the shocking, though beautifully acted Spotlight just over a year ago. With The Founder he brings his mouth-curling humour that so endeared us to him in the mid-1980s, and so a devilishly darker side in a character that would do anything to make it to the top. So good is Keaton’s performance that the viewer can see the conniving Kroc gradually lose himself to a world of greed/ success/ money, something which ultimately gets him whatever he wants in the world – a damn everyone else who gets in his way.

The Founder review
The Founder review

He is, of course, supported by a wondrous cast, notably an under-played though effective role for Laura Dern in the first of two knockout performances (Certain Women comes next), and then Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the ill-advised McDonald brothers who weren’t quite able to see the scope of their hidden beast quite like Kroc. Also look out for another well-rounded performance from B.J. Novak, working with Hancock again following his turn as a Sherman brother on ‘Banks’. Here he plays the pivotal role of Harry J. Sonneborn, who, along with Kroc saw opportunities to make the most money possible from their American dream.

The Founder doesn’t paint a particularly good image of Kroc, though that ugliness makes for a supremely involving motion picture of a small-time businessman who did good – and it’s really quite difficult to not marvel at his achievement. It inspires and repulses in equal measure and will probably cause heated debate amongst those who see it. One thing that can’t be argued is that The Founder is definitely one of the highlights of the year so far.

The Founder review by Paul Heath, February 2017.

The Founder is released in UK cinemas on Friday 17th February 2017.

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The Founder