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Michael Keaton is a Man with a Brand in ‘The Founder’

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CHICAGO – Michael Keaton is the real reason to see “The Founder” – it’s a movie that probably wouldn’t work at all without him. Keaton portrays Ray Kroc, the man who turned McDonald’s into a multinational fast food behemoth. But “The Founder” is an origin story of both the man and the brand…and Kroc is not the genius of American business he’s been made out to be.

When the story opens, Kroc (Keaton) is a traveling salesman going from drive-in to drive-in peddling milkshake machines. You can almost see the sweat stains under his shirt as he tries to drum up a sale, but to no avail. He’s sold many things over the years, and is worried he’s about to run out of road on this particular trip, before he gets to the American Dream. He learns of McDonald’s when the small burger stand in California places an unusually large order for his mixers.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton, center) Opens Another One in ‘The Founder’
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

Kroc did not come up with McDonald’s, he didn’t create the restaurant’s fast food system, and he didn’t even come up with the name. Those honors belong to two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch. But Kroc is the one who pushed them to franchise, and then wound up pushing the founders right out of the business and claiming it for himself.

As Kroc, Keaton is powder keg of twitchy energy and striving. In fact, striving is his default mode, and he sees contentment as an enemy of progress. He’s ruthless, rude, and a bit of a thief who took others ideas, right down to the golden arches, and claims them as his own…but in the end, he’s a brilliant self promoter.

In “The Founder” Ray Kroc is actually both villain and hero, and Keaton is fascinating to watch. Even when he’s being a flat out bastard, he never stops grabbing your attention. As the McDonald brothers, Offerman and Lynch keep trying to apply the brakes, and keep him to his contract to ensure quality above all else. They’re good hearted souls who want to expand and that’s why they hired Kroc in the first place, but they don’t have the relentlessness that he has, and they probably needed a guy like Kroc to help them realize their vision. Kroc added the drive, and an obsession with sameness to make McDonald’s the force it is today. He may be the subject of “The Founder” but Kroc isn’t actually the founder of anything.

They Deserve a Break Today: Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald in ‘The Founder’
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

I loved Michael Keaton in this role, and Kroc comes off as a very conflicted figure which the film never quite totally resolves…personally, I thought he comes off as more of a conniving schemer than business genius. After he’d put one brother in the hospital with his relentless demands, he finally wore the them both down and bought them out. But the movie seems to allege he also swindled them one last time too – one of the film’s closing shots puts the cherry on top to show the depths of his business cruelty. Keaton deserves some awards recognition for this film, but is likely to get lost in the shuffle. Hopefully, at least, more people will think about Dick and Mac the next time they stop in McDonald’s.

”The Founder” opens everywhere on January 20th. Featuring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, Laura Dern, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak and Patrick Wilson. Written by Robert D. Siegel. Directed by John Lee Hancock. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com contributor Spike Walters


© 2017 Spike Walters, HollywoodChicago.com

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