The Founder (2017) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Founder (2017)

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AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: The Founder puts Michael Keaton's magnetic performance at the center of a smart, satisfying biopic that traces the rise of one of America's most influential businessmen -- and the birth of one of its most far-reaching industries.

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Directed by John Lee Hancock (SAVING MR. BANKS), THE FOUNDER features the true story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a struggling salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald, who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California. Kroc was impressed by the brothers' speedy system of making the food and saw franchise potential. Writer Robert Siegel (THE WRESTLER) details how Kroc maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire. The film also stars Laura Dern as Ray Kroc's first wife Ethel; John Carroll Lynch as Mac McDonald and Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald.

Cast

Nick Offerman
as Dick McDonald
John Carroll Lynch
as Mac McDonald
Linda Cardellini
as Joan Smith
Patrick Wilson
as Rollie Smith
B.J. Novak
as Harry Sonneborn
Laura Dern
as Ethel Kroc
Katie Kneeland
as June Martino
Kate Kneeland
as June Martino
Griff Furst
as Jim Zien
Wilbur Fitzgerald
as Jerry Cullen
David Devries
as Jack Horford
Cara Mantella
as Myra Rosenblatt
Randall Taylor
as Owner (Ed's Drive-In)
Lacey King
as CarHop Girl (Ed's Drive-In)
Rebecka Ray
as CarHop Girl (Joe's Drive-In)
Adam Rosenberg
as Employee (San Bernardino)
Jacinte Blackenship
as Woman (San Bernardino)
Jacinte Blankenship
as Woman (San Bernardino)
Charles Green
as Loan Officer #1
David Silverman (XI)
as Loan Officer #2
Mike Pniewski
as Harvey Peltz
Catherine Dyer
as Mrs. Horford
Susan Williams
as Mrs. Cullen
Franco Castan
as Art Wolodarsky
Kenny Alfonso
as Kroc Corporate Lawyer
Kabby Borders
as Cheerleader #1
Valeri Rogers
as Cheerleader #2
Nicolette Goetz
as Cheerleader #3
Lauren Denham
as Cheerleader #4
Abbey Ferrell
as Cheerleader #4
Victor McCay
as Kroc Divorce Lawyer
Steve Coulter
as Doctor Reeves
Ric Reitz
as Will Davis (LA Times Reporter)
Joy Glover Walters
as Mother (San Bernardino)
Makabe Ganey
as Little Boy
Jody Thompson
as Customer (Schaumburg)
Chris Greene
as Grand Opening Customer
Conrad Whitaker
as Limo Driver
Afemo Omilami
as Mr. Merriman
Kim Banta
as Bingo Caller
Devon Ogden
as Gorgeous Blonde
Gerald L. Duckworth
as Owner (Joe's Drive-In)
Jen Cohen
as Female Passenger
Jen Cohn
as Female Passenger
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Critic Reviews for The Founder

All Critics (190) | Top Critics (42)

The Founder ends up feeling extremely wishy-washy, unable to scrub the nastiness of Kroc's success but also incapable of confronting it.

February 9, 2017 | Full Review…
The Atlantic
Top Critic

One of the must-see entertainments of the year.

January 25, 2017 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
New York Observer
Top Critic

Its omissions and elisions are the result not of natural narrative contours but of open choices, gaping holes, psychological wounds that a filmmaker displays all the more via the elaborate efforts at concealment ...

January 23, 2017 | Full Review…
New Yorker
Top Critic

Keaton is fascinating as Kroc, a bad guy who embodies the American Dream - a man who isn't necessarily the best or most talented but who's willing to step on anyone to get ahead.

January 20, 2017 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
Tribune News Service
Top Critic

The Founder remains fascinating largely because Keaton is so good at guile and bile. Not once does he wink at the audience or overplay the obvious.

January 20, 2017 | Full Review…
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic

John Lee Hancock serves up a biopic of McDonald's king Ray Kroc that is not unlike the restaurant's product: precisely prepared, brightly packaged, and uncomplicated in its appeal. Or at least, that's how it goes down much of the time.

January 20, 2017 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
San Diego Reader
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Founder

The Founder is a very thorough depiction of business. As the chronicle evolves, we get a tale that metamorphosizes from a drama about entrepreneurial spirit into a commentary on the sins of capitalism. What emerges is a riveting portrayal of Ray Kroc. He comes across as a very intelligent guy but he can be a ruthless tycoon as well. The brothers are depicted in a more sympathetic light. They place a premium on high-quality ingredients for example. Yet their "stuck in a rut" way of thinking is part of an outmoded business model that has kept their attempts to franchise from succeeding in a big way. Did Ray Kroc exploit the brothers' geniality or was he the visionary that saw opportunities that they didn't? It's an interesting discussion and one that the screenplay encourages. You will both admire and chastise this man. That duality grounds The Founder. I enjoyed every morsel that it served up. fastfilmreviews.com

Mark Hobin
Mark Hobin

Super Reviewer

½

Pretty good biopic that begins with an American desperate to "make it big"and ends with images of the burned bodies of those who trusted him behind him. Resonance comes in that most recognise this particularly famous individual. Quality work.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

½

The Founder aims to be The Social Network of hamburgers and milkshakes, a warts-and-all biopic of a huckster who glommed onto other's success and transformed it into an empire, a pragmatically ruthless entrepreneur run rampant with ambition and leaving behind a trail of lawsuits and disgruntled little people. Michael Keaton, on a roll since Birdman, teams up with screenwriter Robert Siegel (The Wrestler) and director John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks) to bring to life the story of the man behind the ubiquitous golden arches. The details are routinely fascinating and the movie presents a larger thesis on shifting and conflicting concepts of the American Dream and whether a ruthless yet victorious huckster is to be celebrated, pitied, scorned, or all of the above. In the mid 1950s, Ray Kroc (Keaton) was a struggling milkshake mixer salesman striking out with just about every drive-in and dinner in the Midwest. His wife Ethel (Laura Dern) is exasperated by Kroc's flights of fancy, shilling whatever new product might be his ticket to riches. His life changes thanks to one very efficient hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California. The McDonald brothers, Mac (John Caroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman), have ordered eight of Kroc's milkshake mixers because they can barely keep up with demand. Kroc travels out West to see for himself and discovers a tasty and speedy hamburger assembly line that nobody else is doing. He pushes the McDonald brothers to franchise their model with him in the lead. They're wary but agree with a strict contract that still gives full executive decision-making to the brothers. Kroc languishes at first but finds growing success, barely able to keep ahead with the mounting overhead costs. Kroc wants to keep going but the McDonald brothers are unyielding over their terms of business. Kroc schemes to push them out of their own business, establish himself as the founder, and take their very name for himself. Firstly, the story of the formation of McDonald's is probably far less known than the formation of Facebook, and this provides plenty of opportunities for illumination. It is an inherently interesting story. There's the invention of the modern-day fast food assembly line and the difficulty in perfecting this process and getting customers acquainted with the new reality. Initially, after years of drive-in service, customers are befuddled that they have to physically walk up to a window and order and throw away their own trash. The early history, hiccups, and adjustments are interesting, but it all gets more engrossing once Kroc comes aboard. It's here where the film becomes very business-like in its examination of Kroc's ruthless business tactics that lead to his ascent. Without Kroc's intervention, perhaps the world would never have known the name McDonalds. He's not an instant success either. He's already middle-aged when he comes across the McDonald brothers. He's not a brilliant salesman by nature. He's cunning and doggedly persistent, the key he tells us since the world is rife with talented, educated, and good people who go nowhere. Kroc is a constant motor that can never be satisfied. Ethel asks him if anything will ever be enough, and after a short pause he replies without pretense, "Probably not." He cannot enjoy success because he always feels he should be entitled to more. It's the kind of unmoored ambition that leads him to throw his litigious weight around, knowingly breaking legal contracts and handshake deals to get exactly what he wants. Kroc's business triumphs will remind certain viewers of Donald Trump, a man who uses similar advantages of wealth to exploit others and force them into advantageous deals. Even when explicitly in the wrong he just rolls along undeterred. It is Keaton's (Spotlight) movie and he more than delivers under pressure. Keaton adopts a speaking affect that makes the character weirdly magnetic without being wholly charming, an interesting combination that reflects the conflicted nature of Kroc. He's a fast-talking salesman who enjoys the sound of his own voice but he doesn't fool himself. He's a man who knows what he wants and it just happens to be everything. He knows his limitations but he strides forward. He is bursting at the seams to get out from under the thumb of the McDonald brothers, who he sees as limiting the growth of a company that is more his than theirs. Kroc delights in being treated to the upper echelons of power. He loves having people proverbially kiss his ring and lavish his greatness. It's the story of a man who scraped by his entire life until stumbling upon someone else's genius idea. Keaton plays the man with a wily canniness that is always entertaining, channeling the actor's natural oddball energy and style into a Midwestern McBeth. He says if he saw his competitor drowning he'd "shove a hose down his throat." He's generally cold but Keaton and Siegel don't present him with a standard redemption arc. He's kind of a hapless jerk at the start and becomes a powerful, egotistical jerk by the end. Keaton's layered performance gives the film a solid anchor to keep viewers invested in the film. If only the other parts of The Founder had as much nuance and care as Keaton's role. The supporting characters have flashes of interest but are too relegated to be much more than symbols or less developed foils to Kroc. The McDonald brothers have a poignant level of tenderness to them but they're set up to be symbols of American values that will inevitably be trampled upon by Kroc's corporatist version of the American Dream. Mac is the hopeful and trusting brother, Dick is the no-nonsense devote to quality and ethics, and together they could use additional ambiguity or depth. They're meant to represent an older way of doing business, the familiar edict that hard work, dedication to customers, and quality will pay off. The brothers are successful and content at their level of success; they lack the naked ambition of Kroc and his disregard for the rules. They're set up to be defeated and swindled and victims of Kroc's tactics, which limits them as characters. There's a sliver of detail with Dick's concern for his brother's diabetes threatening him, but the brothers are more martyrs than anything else. You anticipate their defeat with slight dread but more a sense of impending inevitability. Their good-natured values are no match for the winner-takes-all mentality of a man on a mendacious mission. Similarly, Kroc's wife is another figure set up from the start to be trampled upon. She's supportive but not supportive enough Kroc feels. Like the McDonald brothers, she's too content within her station and what she deems a good existence, a life of dinners at the club with a retinue of upper middle class friends. Ethel is a plain looking woman of simple pleasures. You already know that there's a ticking clock before Kroc will trade up. With these expectations, more could have been done to establish her character. Too often Kroc's selfish, indifferent, or casually hurtful broadsides are treated with silent suffering from Ethel. She's set up as a walking pained reaction shot. It almost gets to comical levels as the pattern repeats itself and you anticipate a slightly elongated, wounded reaction shot. Kroc's second wife, Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), is a sweetly smiling prize but proves herself more than a pretty face. She shares Kroc's ambitions and proposes swapping real milk for instant milk mix to save refrigeration costs. There's obviously more to this woman, who we meet already married to a business associate of Kroc's, but the movie keeps her as a mostly symbolic, almost Fitzgerald-esque trophy. The other side characters that come into Kroc's orbit, B.J. Novak's scheming real estate fixer, Kate Neeland's esteemed secretary, Justin Randell Brooke's loyal lieutenant, are clipped so that they only appear in the film when they offer some service or advice useful to Kroc. Perhaps there's a meta level here exploring how Kroc views those seemingly closest to him in strict transactional terms, or perhaps I'm just reaching for more. The other liability from an otherwise still entertaining script is the director. Hancock is better known for softer, feel-good films about American values. The Founder is a story that subverts all of those notions and Hancock doesn't seem to master the skills in order for the satirical and darker implications to land. The onscreen visuals seem to clash with the movie's overall disquieting tone. The colors are bright and the musical score by Carter Burwell seems curiously jolly at points, confusing the tone of darker scenes. It just doesn't feel like Hancock had a good feel for the material and how best to execute it. It feels like he's missing the layers of potential with Siegel's screenplay. I'll readily credit Hancock for part of Keaton's terrific performance but Hancock's touches are best realized in the art direction details recreating a bygone era. I feel that somebody like a Steven Soderbergh would have tapped more into this story's satirical potential. The Founder is an entertaining biopic of a scoundrel who ran roughshod over others dreams and turned their success into his own. It's anchored by a complex performance from Keaton. It's a rags-to-riches story that doesn't tell the audience how to think about its centerpiece character. He's underhanded, sure, but he's also got everything he wanted and his tactics proved successful. Is this an ends justify the means story to rationalize the power of avarice, or is this an exploration of the darker undercurrents of the passing American Dream usurping others' dreams and accomplishments (closing text informs us that McDonald's feeds one percent of the world's population every day)? The movie doesn't seem to take a stand, neither fully condemning nor excusing Kroc's actions. The tale behind the worldwide fast food giant is full of supersized drama and interesting procedural details about the rise of the most recognizable name in burgers. It's unfortunate then that the movie struggles to reach the same heights as Keaton. The supporting characters are tragically underdeveloped and kept as figures for comparison to chart Kroc's ascendance. Director John Lee Hancock also feels like an poor fit for the material, his instincts seemingly at odds with the film's tone and intentions. The Founder is an interesting movie with a strong central performance but it can't help but feel like its destiny was far greater, that it's not meeting the full potential of the material. Nate's Grade: B

Nate Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

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