While biopics often celebrate the achievements of incredible human beings (Gandhi, Cry Freedom, Selma), we need to remember that history is not always made by the nicest of guys. Sometimes, world changing events and ideas require people who lack scruples and ethics, but have very strong willpower and energy.
'The Founder' details the rise and rise of fast food titan #Mcdonalds, thanks to down on his luck appliance salesman Ray Kroc. One day, he delivers milkshake machines over to a California restaurant with a unique serving and food production system. Seeing the potential in the McDonalds brothers' creation, he attempts to begin franchising it into a bigger property. Of course, the small town, homegrown brothers find success comes at a cost.
Once again, Keaton shines
#Michael Keaton has been coming out of a 2000s funk swinging, not just appearing in bigger projects like Robocop and the new Spider-Man, but also with acclaimed roles in the likes of Birdman, Spotlight and this. Keaton imbues Kroc with a combination of charisma, mania and ego to create a fascinating human being with layers. One minute, he's a charming average Joe, looking for a break; the next, a ruthless tycoon. Keaton commands the screen effortlessly, though credit must also go to Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonalds Brothers. These two have great chemistry together, making you believe in a genuine and loving relationship between them, while also supplying some laughs through their unusual business methods and reactions to Kroc's changes.
'Saving Mr Banks' helmer John Lee Hancock provides us with a good looking film, the bright and often light colour palette with plenty of red and yellow very fitting for the subject and period. Indeed, though this may trivial at first, it's a strong directorial choice to have the film set mostly during the day, contrasting against the increasingly shady practices and deals Kroc makes. It lets the melodrama feel more natural and opens up the world a lot more, letting you feel how much McDonalds' rise changes things.
'The Founder' is a superior biopic
Robert Siegel's script offers one of the strongest biopics in many years in how completely three dimensional its main cast is. These are fully realized human beings, neither good nor bad, with a set of core values that are often challenged by the demands of franchising McDonalds. While a cutthroat and persistent businessman, Kroc is by no means a cartoon villain, and the Brothers, while sympathetic, are not portrayed as flawless angels who are easily duped. It's an honest look at the world of business and, as the film puts it 'why genius alone isn't successful'. For as wealthy as he ultimately becomes, the film actually feels a bit like a tragedy for Kroc, as his mad pursuit of the American Dream forces him to become increasingly sneaky, dishonest and motivated by profit, alienating those who originally stood by him. It's a touch pseudo-Faustian.
Furthermore, a knowledge of McDonalds history is not essential to one's enjoyment of the film. Many weaker historical films often feel like major events or character motivations are meant to be filled in by your foreknowledge, but here, 'The Founder' walks you through, in great detail, as to the how and why of the chain's success. For example, there are little potshots taken at what would be future McDonalds practices, but the dialogue still works within the scene's context even if you don't get it and don't mess with the drama or comedy.
In short, 'The Founder' is an absolutely fantastic film, destined to sit with some of the genre's all time greats.