The Founder: You’ll be lovin’ it

Vintage Keaton leaves us wanting for more

January 21, 2017 02:36 am | Updated 02:40 am IST

How often is it that an actor starts hitting his or her sweet spot after 60? There’s the perennially perfect Meryl Streep, bagging Oscar nomination after Oscar nomination, the ones that age like fine wine like De Niro or in the case of Jack Nicholson, a casket of whiskey that refuses to lose its kick. And then there’s the strange case of Michael Keaton, that forgotten bottle of champagne which finally decided to pop and flow just when we decided to leave the party hall.

Ever since that magical rejuvenation called Birdman happened in 2014, Keaton seems to have been completely released from the chains that held him down as the original Dark Knight. In John Lee Hancock’s The Founder , he essays the complicated life of Ray Kroc, a businessman who made McDonald’s what it is today – by wresting it away from its very founders.

Kroc is portrayed as a struggling, frustrated and an ageing salesman of milkshake machines in 50s America. He has his way with words – as we see in the deceptively fourth-wall-breaking, opening monologue – but the same can’t be said about his sales strike rate. His wife (the wonderful Laura Dern, who expresses tons of discomfort without mouthing anything) doesn’t seem to be an encouraging factor either. Kroc is first married to his work and doesn’t understand the meaning of ‘no’ or ‘slow down’. 

Kroc desperately latches on to anything that can give him a break or uplift him – even the famously critiqued and now cringe-worthy ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ by Norman Vincent Peale. When he finally meets the innocent but doggedly-methodical McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and John Caroll Lynch as one of the most adorable on-screen sibling pairs) in San Bernardino and witnesses their impressive assembly line method of burger-making, he can’t sleep. “The first time I saw your restaurant, I knew I had to have it,” he says later in the film, after completing his takeover. We learn that this urge-at-first-sight for Kroc applies to human beings too. 

The Founder , on the surface, is clearly a man’s unabashed love for capitalism and how he’d do absolutely anything to get his way. For the business enthusiasts, this is a story that was waiting to be told. It possesses shades of Steve Jobs’ great hijack of Apple from the real brain, Wozniak. It reinforces the adage of how great creators might not be great sellers of ideas (Kroc envisions McDonald’s from coast to coast, to attain the ubiquity of a church or a townhall in every town; the brothers are more than happy to sustain their home branch). And not to forget, the ability to smoothly steal ideas and repackage them.

There’s a strange calm hanging over most parts of the film --  when Kroc takes in a bit of America’s great outdoors as he drives on its interstate highways, drops an unexpected bomb casually over a dining table conversation, and perks his ears to the best bit of financial advice he gets in his life (after turning into a franchising Frankenstein). 

To see the birth and undoing of the original McDonald’s restaurant in this film was like seeing Pop Tate’s innocent little hangout in Archie Comics being cruelly dismantled by an outsider who wants to plant his own Golden Arches. And he’s not one bit sorry about it.

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