Michael Keaton seems to be going through a bit of a career revival at the moment!
Michael Keaton gets to play the big cheese himself, Ray Kroc, in this biopic. Kroc is a long-time traveling salesman for many years and has seen enough of the long roads and the 1950s-drive-in service which refuses to improve. Keaton has his own way of showing us the tired grumpy disenchanted man routine we often see in Hollywood and it definitely brings a fresh perspective. The set dressing and wardrobe in this movie is smack on. The filmmakers have taken the time to give some original thought to the 1954 look and sound. Thankfully ditching the now generic 50’s ‘fab'.
We meet Kroc on the circuit selling five spindle milkshake makers to diners. Well he’s trying to, but mostly his job consists of him having doors shut in his face. That is until a phone call from the office requesting 6 of the Prince Castle shake machines leads him to McDonald's Restaurant in San Bernardino, California. Upon his arrival Kroc is confused and then stunned at the service and manner of delivery. Enthralled he asks to meet its owners and operators Richard McDonald and Maurice McDonald. The brothers Dick, (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) have redesigned the whole concept of the drive-in restaurant to offer only the most popular items, focusing on quality food through a smaller menu and discourage the lounging teenagers for a more family vibe.
Offerman and Lynch are almost as synchronised as actors as the ‘speed service technique’, playing off each other’s lines with a sincere family vibe. Their performance adds to the overall effectiveness of getting across their values and does wonders for the believability of the premise. A favourite scene was the standoffish Dick, using a tennis court and employees, to figure out the best way to set up the assembly line, rearranging the chalk outlines several times before getting the most expedient output.
Kroc sees an unmissable chance and and grabs it with both hands, trying to convince them to franchise. The McDonald brothers somewhat hesitantly enter into a contract with Kroc to be their head of franchising. Ray's experience in the job is not without its problems, especially as his franchisees seem to be making more money than he is. When he finds he’s only breaking even and at risk of losing his home, Kroc combines his ambition and ruthless persistence to make changes. Leading to the elevatable standoff between Kroc and the brothers.
The founder can be seen as the fable of good American business verses bad, but I see more to it than that. The two McDonalds brothers could have just been scripted as plain naive or just patsies. But Hancock keeps things twisting from sound business ethics to having been press-ganged into corporate moves. In the end we can come to the conclusion that they just could not fend off the impossible Ray Kroc.
Director John Lee Hancock could be accused of keeping things as a bit too tidy and serial but when business and corporate law talk might begin to bore the viewer, he adds more pace and human relationship events to keep us buzzing.
Laura Dern is poorly used in this film as Ethel Kroc. Scenes with her are cold and often in a dim light. The message that Kroc no longer cares for Ethel was clear and this over dramatic effect feels a little on the nose in a film of this tone. Brutally raw moments shared with lawyers and lines such as “If I saw a competitor drowning, I'd shove a hose down his throat,” tells us enough. Unlike many of these films we love our protagonist at the start but by the conclusion we see him consumed by ego and a bit of a git.
written by Sera Bryant