*** stars (out of four)
Michael Keaton’s acting renaissance continues with director John Lee Hancock’s The Founder, a story about the transformation of McDonald’s from a family-run restaurant to a franchise behemoth.
Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a struggling 52-year-old milkshake machine salesman who’s failed at a number of previous sales jobs. When selling to the McDonald brothers (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), he’s impressed by the efficiency of the service and the quality of the product at their San Bernardino restaurant. He offers the brothers a deal to franchise their product. At first, they’re reluctant but they eventually agree.
The film has echoes of The Social Network, following a lead who’s willing to do anything to get ahead in business and the wreckage he leaves behind. But just as in The Social Network, The Founder avoids painting Kroc as a one-dimensional villain. Keaton follows up his excellent work in Birdman and Spotlight with another top-notch turn here, and he’s ably supported by Lynch, Offerman, and Laura Dern (as Kroc’s wife). Dern gives a lot more nuance and shade to the long-suffering wife role than that part receives in most films.
Time will tell if The Founder gives Keaton an overdue Oscar, but the film is worth seeing regardless.