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Founder, The (Blu-ray Review)

28 Apr, 2017 By: John Latchem

Lionsgate/Anchor Bay
Box Office $12.79 million
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for brief strong language
Stars Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, BJ Novak, Laura Dern.

This movie is liable to elicit one of two reactions from viewers. They will either have a craving for a McDonald’s burger and rush out to get one, or they may be inclined to never eat there again.

That’s because the film paints a rather unflattering portrait of Ray Kroc, a down-on-his-luck milkshake-machine salesman who turned the success of a local hamburger stand in San Bernardino, Calif., into an international fast food empire.

Now, at first that might sound like an all-American tale of hard work and persistence. But Kroc wasn’t the one who started that first hamburger restaurant. Nor did he have anything to do with making it a success.

No, what this movie is about is why the restaurants are named McDonald’s when the “founder” is named Kroc.

In this case, Ray (played with smarmy aplomb by Michael Keaton) stumbles upon that famous San Bernardino hotspot after the owners make a bulk order of his milkshake machines. There he finds the booming business started by Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), who turned the drive-in diner concept on its ear by serving ready-made food with disposable packaging at a walk-up window. Impressed by their “Speedee” system, Ray makes a deal with them to spearhead franchises across the country in the 1950s and ’60s, sparking a chain of events that ultimately spawns a multi-billion-dollar corporation.

The film’s screenplay, by Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler), no doubt takes some liberties with the historical record, but the end result is a thoroughly compelling presentation of the formative years of McDonald’s. To be fair, details of what really happened are a bit on the sketchy side, with the most prominent source being Kroc’s autobiography, not exactly an objective accounting of these events. The film tracked down the grandsons of Dick McDonald, and judging by their prominent placement in the behind-the-scenes bonus materials included with the Blu-ray, it’s a good bet where a good chunk of the information used to construct the screenplay came from.

And what screenplay it is, guiding the audience through multiple points of view to the point where it’s hard to know exactly whose side to be on by the end. Siegel talks about having more fun with movies such as Citizen Kane or The Social Network, where the main character is the bad guy, but Kroc exists in more of a gray zone.

Director John Lee Hancock — who is developing a nice niche in the period docu-drama field after Saving Mr. Banks and The Alamo, not to mention The Blind Side and The Rookie — describes his unique reaction to the story as rooting for someone to succeed only to be completely ambivalent about his accomplishments by the end.

Indeed, multiple viewings tend to elicit different aspects of the story to draw upon in trying to understand these characters. Is Kroc an unscrupulous moocher out for a quick buck, or is he a hard-working businessman trying to overcome the obstinance of his partners? Are the McDonald brothers simple entrepreneurs duped by a con man looking to cash in on their success, or are they simply unable to recognize how the industry they spawned is threatening to swallow them despite Ray’s warnings? While it’s pretty clear where the film’s sympathies rest, many of these answers are still left to the viewer to decide.

The Blu-ray delves more into this interpretive analysis of the story with about an hour of bonus materials.

There are a series of production featurettes that run about 20 minutes, most of which are fairly typical EPK-style vignettes centered on interviews with the cast and filmmakers depending on the topic. One featurette focuses on Michael Keaton’s performance, the other on the McDonald brothers. One deals with the screenplay, another with the production design, which involved re-creating a few vintage McDonald’s locations. A time-lapse of the set being built is the final featurette.

More substantive is a Jan. 12, 2017, press conference with most of the cast, producers and other key filmmakers that runs about 38 minutes.

About the Author: John Latchem

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