The Founder
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The Founder

Talk about auspicious timing.

This story of how Ray Kroc became the mastermind of the McDonalds empire is distinctive because of its spectacular leading performer and its savvy ironic look at the man he plays. The fact that this tale of a conniver who weaseled his way to the top is being released in theaters on inauguration day may shake a few feathers, too.

But let’s go back to Michael Keaton, shall we? He really is brilliant as the desperate traveling salesman, a guy who drops everything and drives for days when he thinks he might get an order for those restaurant supplies he so urgently needs to sell. But Keaton’s Kroc is no fool. When he sees how two brothers are making a mint at their drive up hamburger joint, he wants not just to find out why, he also wants in. And we, under John Lee Hancock’s smartly paced direction, root for him. And we like the small businessmen we meet joining him along the way. We even want to see Kroc’s long suffering wife enjoy the fruits of success. And, in so doing, maybe we’re overlooking a thing or two. Maybe we’re cheering on a guy who really doesn’t have the best interest of the others, or even of America, which he sees as the ultimate benefactor of his restaurants, in mind. Or his heart.

Keaton plays all this with a deftness he’s shown before, but this time, grounded in a reality he doesn’t always allow. It’s just a terrific piece of work. And it’s fun to watch Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini and Patrick Wilson complete the pieces of a tale we’ve all taken a bite of. For those who haven’t heard this story before, the movie offers a revealing look at big business. Even for those who already know how the sausage (or in this case hamburger) is made, they’ll still pretty much be left, feeling the need to shake off the slimy residue of its real life, bullish success at all costs.

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