Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) travels from food joint to food joint trying to sell a five-spindle milkshake mixer. No one bites, but as he sits defeated at these drive-in restaurants, he notices a trend. A trend of slowness, inaccuracy.
When a small, bustling outfit out of San Bernadino named McDonald’s orders an inexplicable eight mixers for one location, Kroc is intrigued. He travels to the restaurant, a walk-up counter that serves you a burger in 30 seconds, not 30 minutes. With this untapped goldmine in front of him, Kroc has a fabulous idea: to benefit from someone else’s fabulous idea.
The Founder is in many ways a standard biopic. What it does slightly differently is give its nefarious protagonist and those he harms on his way to the top enough character to make them all sympathetic in one way or another.
There is not a terrible amount of story in the film, much of it details the budding franchise’s development and the obstacles that the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) put in Kroc’s way, but certain aspects keep the pacing from cuing up vacant eyes in the audience,
The snappy dialogue, and the equally rapid editing style, are the first striking aspects of the film. The former, the writing, is done serviceably, taking what could come across as mundane and making it high energy.
The latter, on the other hand, is an unfortunate problem. The script is paced well enough to allow for breathing room between cuts. Instead, conversations are cut like action sequences, often enough that it is jarring. Edits also occur on the spaces between dialogue often enough that these shifts are all too noticeable. All too distracting.
The film has an obvious choice of color palette: yellow, gold, golden brown. Gold is everywhere in the film, and for obvious reason. But it is distracting in a similar way to the editing, not to mention it is not particularly attractive to the eye.
Two strong performances carry this film, and they are the two foil characters played by Keaton and Offerman. The film is Keaton’s to carry, no doubt, but Offerman rivals him at every turn. The only difference is the amount of screentime.
Keaton’s scrappy gift-of-gab pitches become refrains in the film’s rhythm. Offerman’s steadfast values held tight in his stern face and delivery: a counter-rhythm. Laura Dern’s more quiet performance as Kroc’s wife also steals scenes from Keaton on occasion.
The Founder is a standard biopic narrative, sure. Its story can only reach as far as arm’s length, even though it keeps trying for more. But the scripting and performances keep the film from losing its direction, and, ultimately, propel this struggle between hometown and corporate values to a level of entertainment that a McDonald’s film should never reach.
The Founder: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)