Hollywood movies about how to get ahead in business have largely targeted Silicon Valley in recent years. The Social Network was a high-point. Hopefully there will no further upgrades of those multiple Steven Jobs films.

The Founder heads back to the 1950s and 60s examining the early years of the world's most ubiquitous fast-food franchise and the men, well the man, behind it. Still, it has the feeling of a start-up drama. After all, it is a movie about how smart idea can change everything.

With hot-again Michael Keaton in the lead as Ray Kroc and its release delayed from earlier in the year to awards season, it would seem this is being pitched as a prestige Oscar contender. A sort of The Social Network with fries and a shake.

Except, it's not that good. It's a bland movie that becomes less great American business saga, more mildly engaging, mildly uncomplimentary Kroc biopic.


Kroc spends quite a bit of screen-time offering business homilies into the camera, which seems less illustrative of its leading character than a self-conscious effort to show how quirky Keaton and his eyebrows can be playing a conventional guy. It eventually becomes tiresome.

Sure, the story of how Kroc found rather than founded McDonalds and made it what it is today is intriguing.

Having been a travelling milkshake machine salesman, Kroc went into business with brothers Mac and Dick McDonald after they had started the original McDonalds in 1950s California when they had figured out how to put the "fast" into fast food.

Michael Keaton stars in The Founder. Photo supplied by Trigger.
Michael Keaton stars in The Founder. Photo supplied by Trigger.

Eventually, Kroc manoeuvred them out, took the name and reneged on a handshake deal that would have paid them millions in royalties.

And just as they became bit players in the McDonalds story, the pair playing them, John Caroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, don't register strongly.

It's hard to feel much sympathy when the carpet is pulled out from beneath them. Ditto Laura Dern as Ray's first wife, Ethel, and Linda Cardellini as his third, Joan.

Director John Lee Hancock has become a specialist in plucky true-life stories ranging from flop The Alamo, football melodrama The Blind Side to Saving Mr. Banks about Walt Disney exploiting the works of P.L. Travers' for Mary Poppins (Fun fact: Kroc and Disney served in the same ambulance unit during World War I).

Here, he's added another all-American tale from a script that seems blessed with 20/20 hindsight.


Early on, Kroc says he wants to establish McDonald's as the "new American church and it ain't just open on Sundays", which rings a little false. Then again, Kroc was clearly a man with a religious fervour for franchising and one who developed a cult following among his franchisees.

Still, it's a movie that feels like a business-movie opportunity wasted. Had, say, the Coen Brothers Hudsucker Proxy-ed or David Mamet Glengarry Glen Ross-ed it, or even David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin Social Network-ed it, The Founder might have grabbed. But it's is a movie devoid of special sauce.

And once consumed, you may still be feeling strangely hungry.

Though, if nothing else it's well timed. The story of a dubious businessman who becomes king after reneging on his debts and building an empire founded on other people's smarts and real estate? That has a certain resonance, if nothing else.

Verdict: I'm not quite loving it

Cast: Michael Keaton, John Caroll Lynch, Nick Offerman, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini
Director: John Lee Hancock
Rating: M (offensive language)
Running time: 115 mins