From the first time I saw a trailer for the Founder I was enamoured with the subject matter, but also with the timing of its release for what was going on in the news at the time. Sadly I didn't get to watch the film on my first attempt as the projector malfunctioned after a 30 minute wait reminding me more of Burger King. I was nevertheless still keen to watch this film based on the names Michael Keaton and Nick Offerman alone and so I did. Fair warning as this film is based on true events there will be plot spoilers.
Rays luck seems to be about to change when he receives word that a diner in California has ordered six machines, which he immediately assumes to be a mistake. Once he realises it isn't Ray makes the around 1800 mile drive (according to Google) to find the restaurant and witnesses something he has never experienced, fast food and good service eventually referred to as the "speedy system". Kroc is at this point basically desperate, and so when he sees this he goes all out to be part of it. What the film doesn't show is that this wasn't the first food establishment Kroc tried to get into as he had attempted the non-hostile takeover plan before. A lot of his character is revealed through not so subtle hints that sound off alarm bells. One such instance of this is Kroc skimming the contract presented to him going over pages in seconds. This becomes pertinent later on as Ray states that "contracts are like hearts, made to be broken" but you already knew his mindset at the time. The one thing that remains consistent about Ray Kroc from when he is penniless to when he is rich, he always goes for what he wants regardless of who has it and what the moral restrictions are. This means that despite our change in the perception of his character, he never actually changes himself which is a well written development. He is the same man, but we see him differently as events progress.
The McDonald brothers are played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman who both do brilliantly with what is on the page but portray the brothers very narrowly at times. This is not an issue with Offerman or Lynch but more to do with the films writing which offers an increasingly brief insight
Another thing I liked throughout the film was the music by Carter Burwell. It seems to match Kroc at all times, it is upbeat and energetic when he is and low and dreary when he is also. It picks up for example when Ethel Kroc shows her support for him and has a sense of exploration about it. Kroc is after all expending West to make his fortune so this feels appropriate and brings you along for the ride, making you feel the way Ray feels in any given moment rather than having us passively experience Rays journey. This feeling of sunny optimism is also backed by beautifully coloured scenes, particularly outdoors. The reds and yellows of McDonalds and the sunny blue California skies notable in the early scenes for the film when Kroc is discovering the Brothers' diner are reminiscent to me of Director John Lee Hancock's last film Saving Mr. Banks. (2013), with which there are many similarities with The Founder. What came to mind especially was the scene of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) giving P.L Travers (Emma Thompson) a tour of Disneyland, as well as many of the exterior shots of the Disney studios. In that film I took this to be a representation of Disney magic brought out by glorifying light and colour, and similarly in The Founder I interpreted its use as shining optimism of its lead character pouring trough the screen.
The score and setting of this film might not be out of place in a western at times which was perhaps helped by the 1950's decor of the film. A great deal of this had to recreated from scratch with McDonalds locations having to be built in car parks and other areas that wouldn't clash with the time
While the McDonalds brand was never going to be shown in any negative light, it is also not pandered to or shoved down the viewers throat. The story is heavily focused on the changing relationship between Kroc and the McDonalds brothers mainly from Kroc's side, and the brand is prominent but is still very much a setting and a historical context above all else. One exception to this is a speech Kroc gives comparing Dicks 'golden arches' design for restaurants to the flag on a courthouse or the spire of Churches, claiming that McDonalds could become the "new American Church". It is important to note the context of this line though as the point Kroc is trying to make a deal and of course he is going to glorify his subject. For those of you scared of clowns don't worry, Ronald makes no appearance either.
In the following days after I saw The Founder I later learned that much of the film was written based on Ray Kroc's own autobiography. Knowing this made everything come together, because while being presented from a third person perspective the film is very much Krocs version of events. Unlike Krocs empire however he himself doesn't escape the film with his reputation unscathed. I noted before that the one thing that doesn't change about Ray is that he relentlessly goes after what he wants regardless of who has it. This is not limited strictly to business but refers to his second wife Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini) who is introduced as the wife of one of Rays franchisees and Ray is enamoured by immediately, like Pepe Le Pew whenever he sees the girl skunk. Her introduction signposts the beginning of a colder more ruthless Ray Kroc, and one that while the same character fundamentally is more driven and will go after what he wants regardless of who it will hurt.
I mentioned the the start of this review that I was interested in the timing of this films release, given that it seemed to coincide with trumps inauguration. I wondered what the films tone would be like in light of this. In reality the script was on the Hollywood blacklist of unmade but worthy projects for a few years, and the films original release date was this past Summer which was moved to January in hopes of Oscar nominations (it received none). The Founder in the end felt like a slightly baffling misstep for our modern times. Today where corporate greed and corruption are more public knowlege than ever, and a certain business tycoon currently holds the keys to the kingdom I had expected something totally different to what The Founder presented. Something a little more biting and judgemental, maybe even an antidote, but what we got was basically an advert for all of the above. Once the film had sunk in I felt like I had watched a shiny happy promotional film where the plot is basically big business over the little guy, which didn't seem appropriate for what is going on in the world these days. If The Founder had a bit more of a satirical edge to it then it would maybe have remedied this but while I enjoyed the presentation and performances I couldn't help but be disappointed by the films message and overall tone. I later discovered that Joel and Ethan Coen were interested in making this film but couldn't due to clashing schedules with Hail, Caesar! (2016), which while I like John Lee Hancock, I can't help but think would have made for a totally different and perhaps better film. The Founder is saccharine, but leaves a bitter taste.