PG-13. I actually wonder if Hancock was shooting for the PG-13 because there are moments where you know someone wanted to use the "F-Bomb".
DIRECTOR: John Lee Hancock
When I saw the trailer for this one, I said, "This. This is the movie I want to see." It looked gritty and rough and really intense. I'm not a guy who necessarily has a BEEF with McDonald's. (It's why I'm still in the business, folks...) It just seemed like this was going to be in the ballpark with There Will Be Blood. We were going to see the sharks of corporate America and watch how an honest business became synonymous with junk. Yeah, that wasn't this movie. I mean, the story of how one guy took a humble business and corrupted it into becoming the largest fast food establishment in history is there. The story is real; it's just that the meat isn't. (Ah, I did it again.)
I have to admit, I'm a little bias against director John Lee Hancock. I didn't know his name until I IMDB'ed it after seeing the trailer. I then saw his filmography and probably uttered an audible "Crap." Hancock directed some movies that really left me "meh" and may have directed one of my least favorite movies of the past decade. It's a movie that everyone loves and I'm going to lose the heartland with this one. I really can't stand his movie, The Blind Side. Everyone loves this movie. Okay, white middle class America loves this movie. Since this isn't a review for The Blind Side, I'll leave it at that. If someone demands I watch this movie again, I probably will. But I might need company and ideal conditions to get through it. But Hancock hasn't directed a lot and The Founder, from the trailer at least, looked like it had real vision. I hadn't given up on it. There are lots of directors where I don't like most of their stuff, but I tend to like them when a passion project shows up. The Founder isn't awful. In fact, I overall enjoyed it. But I saw a bunch of ratings that kind of proclaim the movie as "okay", and I have to agree with them. The movie is good, not great. Considering that this movie could have broken the mold, that's where the disappointment lies. There's content here and there's a functional delivery. It's just that when a movie has such potential, "okay" seems pretty damning.
The movie thrives in its cast. The cast is perfect. I love that Michael Keaton has a very different career after Birdman. I always kind of wondered how Michael Keaton made it into so many A-List movies. The casting of him as Batman still blows my mind. Mind you, this is the same guy who would have cast Nicholas Cage as Superman, so there's something going on there. But he's been in far more commercial movies and I'm sure that paid the bills. I learned to love Keaton in his smaller roles. I like the idea that Keaton in his later years is concerned more with perfecting his craft. That's nifty to me. He's also really good. He's really good in this. He's delivering lines that seem very expository, but he does an amazing job at kind of burying that outright exposition. Add to that casting Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonald Brothers, I can't think of a better cast. I love Nick Offerman ever since I started watching Parks and Recreation. He shoehorns himself into the manly-man roles, despite personally being very open minded and vulnerable. His stand-up is very revealing about his real personality and, while I don't necessarily endorse any politics on this forum --let alone his --I do like the man quite a bit. It's always nice to see people you like get roles in movies. He's still a bit of Ron Swanson, but less so. He's a bit more even keeled here, but he still has a bit of alpha male going on with the part. He does it really well, so I can't begrudge Hancock for putting him in this position. John Carroll Lynch is still think as the guy from The Drew Carey Show. While perhaps more of a character actor, he really knows how to play up the sympathy for the brothers. Dick McDonald, played by Offerman, is too much of a local shark to really build sympathy. You want to see him defeat Kroc, but that's more of a competitive win. It's a hold on integrity. It is with Lynch's Mac that the story becomes personal. Mac is the vulnerable one. He isn't weak, but he is reserved. McDonald's, as a brand, represents the family that he created with his brother; perhaps an ironic thought considering that is how Kroc sells the franchise to new investors. Lynch really does a phenomenal job of being in the background, but not being hidden in the background. It only makes his lines all the more important and he hits each one perfectly. Finally --and I love this casting --Linda Cardellini is so gosh darned talented. I love her in everything. I've seen her in good stuff and I've seen her and stinkers and she is always on. Her part is perhaps not as vital to the story as I would have liked. The movie does fail the Bechdel test because this is a movie with tons of dudes and two women. I'm sorry that I'm not gushing about Laura Dern, but I don't know if she got enough to work with. She's a strong actress who nails what she is given, but the entire movie is just sadness. I've seen her do it before and I don't think that the movie gave her enough to do. She brings a hint of power to the character, but that is beneath the surface and there really is no resolution to those choices.
The movie's shortfall comes with the idea that Ray Kroc isn't a good guy or a bad guy. He's not an antihero either. He's kind of a schlub who has a point with what he does. He's a guy who goes from morally neutral to kind of bad because he kind of has a point. That's not that interesting of a character change. And the movie is about his moral compass. I mentioned There Will Be Blood earlier. Daniel Plainview is an evil man who accepts that he is an evil man. The internal conflict in the movie is when a man who is in control of a situation risks losing that control. Ray Kroc isn't the same story. This is about his very soul, but his soul is kind of blah to begin with. There's a hint that Ray was the kind of guy who saw behind the curtain of what things are versus what things could be. I don't think the real Ray Kroc was that way, but who cares? This is a movie. That idea could really have been pursued. Keaton probably used that frustration to show how Kroc related to rejection and disappointment, but that idea is definitely hidden and left mostly unexplored. Instead, we get more of a historical narrative and explanations of what drove a wedge between Ray Kroc and the McDonald Brothers and Ray Kroc and hist wife. It is very linear. There's not much room for development. The weird thing is that I can see Keaton really crushing this ethical choice. Why couldn't we have a scene where he starts to fall apart and ask if he's doing he right thing? Rather, the picture of Ray Kroc is just a "Get Rich Quick" guy. That character isn't riveting. There's a moment where Kroc just figured out how to save the franchises from going under by saving some money. He is instantly (pun intended) rejected by Dick McDonald and that moment is a major moment for the underdog, Dick. But why couldn't we have Kroc plead with McDonald? Why couldn't he be vulnerable for five seconds and beg? He could have told him the whole story. He could have been a normal person who is humiliated by this little fish who thinks he's being a big man for the first time in their relationship. Think about that moment, when Ray Kroc is metaphorically spat upon and decides to rain down fire upon the brothers because he's desperate. That is such an opportunity and I'm blown away that Hancock didn't take it. "Well, that didn't happen." It may have and, again, this is not a documentary. I'm sure a lot of the movie didn't happen. Except for that fried chicken bit. I'm sure that happened.
I think I hate safety in films. Hancock is a very safe director. The movie removes the vision of the director by giving a color palate that is aesthetically pleasing and reminds us of a better time. I love how we thing of the fifties as ultra-colorful, considering that most of our reference points are in black-and-white. McDonald's has a color palate that we associate and have an instant reference point for, but think of if Hancock went the other way with it. I keep comparing this movie to There Will Be Blood, but that color palate was a choice. Instead, The Founder takes the safe route with its look by giving us the same shades as Remember the Titan and the colorized scenes in Pleasantville. I think we must have collective understanding of what the '50s looked like that must not be at all accurate, but we accept. It's kind of the same thing when things are shot in Mexico with the heavy washed out sepia tint. Thanks a lot, Traffic. The movie also did a lame thing by tricking me with the opening speech. There was a hint that we were going to go all Frank Underwood with the narrative breaking the fourth wall. It would have been gutsy. We would have gotten such a cool insight into Ray Kroc, but it was just one of those things that was a mislead. He's talking to a guy? Lame. That speech is also rough. No one would stick by that speech, nor would a speech be that expository. I'm going to seem really snobby here, but I think he's making his movies for the lowest common denominator. Look at John Lee Hancock's filmography and tell me that he is challenging people. He has a message and I applaud him for that. I guess it is a good thing that he's giving the message to everyone as opposed to the elite, but that message didn't really land because it is so easy to digest. People sometimes need to struggle with material. The movie ended and I had to write this blog simply to become invested in the material. Ray Kroc is kind of a jerk and destroyed someone's personal business to make a buck. McDonald's only cares about money, despite pretending to be the family oriented fast food chain. But I knew that. There has to be a way to engage people to talk to each other and really break things down for themselves. I wish this movie wasn't so blatant and didn't spell things out so clearly. There's not much exploration of the internal conflict despite the fact that this movie is mostly about the internal conflict. It oversimplifies everything and that's a shame.
I can't stress this enough: this movie isn't bad. In fact, it's good. It's John Lee Hancock's best. It just needed to be great and it really could have been great. It just wasn't.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.