Michael Keaton plays a bad guy well in this true-to-life story of how the McDonald’s fast food franchise was built, writes ANDREW JOHNSTONE.
The Founder is a biopic about the guy who set McDonald’s on its way to world domination. Ray Kroc was a ne’er-do-well who at an age when most men are winding down found his feet and made a vast fortune. Of course, he had to walk all over a lot of people to do it, including the unfortunate McDonald brothers who developed the ideas that set this fast food method apart. Kroc promised them the earth while sidestepping the signed contract with a firm and convincing: “You can trust me.” Yeah right.
What I can’t figure is all the money he gave away to good causes, including American public radio and television. The 1 percent of profits in perpetuity the McD’s were asking for was nothing in comparison. They walked away with a minuscule one million apiece before Kroc set about destroying their last bit of dignity – that little burger joint in San Bernardino where they first figured it out.
Kroc in all his complexity is nicely played by the reliable Michael Keaton, who is the best part of what is otherwise fairly standard narrative territory. But to its credit The Founder is no grand glorification of the McD’s brand. Instead, its a prescient and blunt examination of America’s messianic business ambition – a method that tends toward the underhand and manipulative, making for an interesting theme considering the times. Trump and Ray Kroc could well be one and the same: glib fast talkers with no higher cause than that of the self. Well worth your time.
Keaton has more than his fair share of dross in his filmography, so if you want to see more him in some good stuff, these might help:
Night Shift (1982) – I went and saw this at Hamilton’s long-demolished grand central city cinema The Regent back in 1982. I enjoyed it so much that I went back for a repeat a week later. It had Henry Winkler in it, The Fonz from Happy Days, which was then the most popular show on TV, and it was directed by his co-star Ron Howard, and I was a fan and loved it for that reason alone. But it also had this other kinda crazy guy called Michael Keaton, and he was pretty good. When DVDs came along a few years later I rented it in anticipation of a nostalgic laugh or two, and don’t remember it being as good as I thought it was. Still, writing this I am keen for another shot.
Beetlejuice (1988) – Keaton runs this supernatural comedy with a multi-layered performance full of rich comic timing and pathos. It was a critical and financial sensation. Still a good movie and will remain so.
Batman (1989)/Batman Returns (1992) – After Beetlejuice, Keaton was a big star and was rewarded with a couple of goes as Batman, and the big A-List pay check.
Jackie Brown (1997) – My favourite Tarantino after the Kill Bills features a typically Tarantino ensemble cast, and Keaton does his bit with suitable aplomb.
Birdman (2014) – After years of everything from the badly earnest through the second-rate, Keaton strikes pay dirt with a magic realist sort of film about a movie star losing the plot on the eve of his big theatrical debut. It won four Academy Awards and critical acclaim to burn.
Spotlight (2015) – This film reaches back to 1976 and a cadre of Boston Globe reporters who bust open the sexual abuse endemic in Boston’s powerful Catholic community. Keaton is a damned decent team player and does grand work in this ensemble piece that grabs you buy the balls (so to speak) and refuses to let go.
* The Founder is available via on demand and DVD/Blu-ray from April 12.