Skip to main content

There’s a wolf in the henhouse. We let him in!

The Founder
(2017)

(SPOILERS) I’d had this on my watchlist for an age, balancing the positive of a Michael Keaton showcase against the vanilla prospects of a John Lee Hancock joint. I should have been less cautious, as The Founder, the tale of the rise of Ray Kroc and his wresting control of McDonalds from the brothers who started it, is hugely engrossing. It may even be that Hancock’s inconspicuous directorial presence benefits the material on this occasion, allowing Robert Siegel’s screenplay and Keaton’s performance to be exactly as persuasive as they should.

There’s surprising nuance to this depiction of the American Dream in all its undersided glory. Ray achieves everything it stands for, but does so by stomping on the little people who put principles over profit (he says as much at one point, that this is why they’re only running one restaurant). The dexterity of the material is not dissimilar to The Wolf of Wall Street in its own, less showy way, bringing you along for the ride of Kroc’s eventual success and perversely encouraging you to root for him, while at the same time recognising that he opts for a ruthless, take-no-prisoners course.

On the one hand, the brothers, superbly played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, are less than sympathetic in their rigidity and choices, ones that effectively leave Kroc financially paralysed. On the not inconsiderable other, when he eventually pushes them out of their own business and takes their name away, he has the audacity to propose a handshake deal for their one percent in perpetuity profit share (incredibly, they agree, and unsurprisingly, he never pays up). The slippery manner in which Kroc succeeds in ousting the brothers’ control, at the suggestion of financial consultant Harry Sonneborn (BJ Novak), is cleverly inserted at a point where Ray’s in a make-or-break situation, so putting our sympathies with the monster rather than those stomped on (“You’re not in the burger business. You’re in the real estate business”, he is told, so establishing the Franchise Realty Corporation, to the brothers’ impotent indignation).

Keaton is a blast as Kroc; it’s a juicy role played to the hilt by a great actor, and a reminder of how few such roles there seem to be these days. All you have to do is let him go, and he does everything you’d expect. Keaton’s so energetic, it scarcely matters that he’s a decade too old for the guy.

As for the director, to be fair to Hancock, he’s entirely able to capture Kroc’s sense of wonder at the brother’s unprecedented “instant” service approach. There’s a whole sequence where the brothers recount their rocky path to success to a rapt Ray, and you’re as rapt as he is. The path to ensuring a “quality” product in a mass franchise is fascinating too, perhaps the one aspect (aside from the fast-service) where Ray upholds the brothers’ ideals. Notable too, if somewhat apocryphal sounding, is his claim that the key in his acquisition, above all else, is the name (“It sounds like America”).

You could argue the movie’s is too impressed with Kroc, giving the brothers short shrift and not showing much sympathy for Laura Dern as his slightly shrewish first wife (the only thing he won’t budge on in their divorce settlement is refusing her McDonald’s stock), but I think that actually serves the illustration of a figure who makes such a monumental success of themselves, by whatever methods. If you come away on Ray’s side – which I doubt you will, but it’s there – it isn’t because the picture has left out the negatives, it’s because his sweeping charisma has worked an effect. I’m generally unimpressed by the linear nature of biopics and their workmanlike approach, and you could accuse Hancock of exactly this, but with The Founder, he has two key ingredients on his side: the appeal of a classic success story, regardless of the morality of the protagonist, and Keaton, who didn’t gain Birdman level attention here, but definitely deserved it.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.