I expected to be starving after watching The Founder, John Lee Hancock’s sneakily dark expose of the origins of McDonald’s, but you’re most definitely left with a sour taste in your mouth over how one of the most iconic emblems of America came to be. Robert D. Siegel’s swift screenplay effectively laid out the broad-stroke history to one of the world’s most popular franchise restaurants, never backpedaling on any of the ethically and morally corrupt maneuvers that certain people made in order to get filthy rich. Michael Keaton is very sharp as Ray Kroc, the unrelentingly persistent salesman who lucked his way into meeting the two original McDonald’s creators, Richard and Maurice McDonald, effectively played by the great John Carroll Lynch and funny-man Nick Offerman, wisely tamping down his overt comedic instincts and playing a tightly wound relative-genius.
Hancock’s direction is assured and steady, the film has an eye-pleasingly, honeyed widescreen visual style courtesy of cinematographer John Schwartzman (The Rock, The Rookie, Seabiscuit), while the picture continually evokes a simpler time in America when you could feed your family of four some burgers, fries, and Cokes for 50 cents. But at its heart, this is a dark and sad movie, with a totally unlikable protagonist at its center who is a complete leech yet was smart enough to use the system to his advantage. So in other words, the American Dream. Carter Burwell’s score operates in both happy and sinister mode, sometimes at once. The unintended thematic allusions to Donald Trump’s repugnant rise to power can’t help but announce themselves repeatedly while you watch The Founder unfold.