What I'm Watching...

The Founder- John Lee Hancock (2016)

Michael Keaton in  The Founder

Michael Keaton in The Founder

I'd recommend The Founder to anyone who enjoyed Fincher's The Social Network but found themselves annoyed by their inability to identify a clear cut villian within the legal melee. Michael Keaton plays Ray Crock, a shrewd businessman who could teach Eisenberg's Zuckerberg a thing or two about skullduggery and Machiavellian scheming. At first a hapless over the road salesman of cumbersome gizmos meant to service burger joints and shake shacks, fate soon smiles upon Ray Crock in the form of those now iconic "golden arches". Crock is bowled over by the brainchild of two good natured brothers from southern California: McDonald's, a fast food destination unparalleled in its efficiency and quality. Crock delivers his tried and true sales pitch to the unsuspecting brothers and soon transforms the humble hamburger stand into something the brother's find unrecognizable. Keaton scampers through the film fighting tooth and nail to fend off various elements in his life which he sees as impediments to his success. His wife, played by Laura Dern (in a rather thankless role) doesn't share his penchant for risk taking when it comes to the mortgaging of their home, the McDonalds' brothers back at home base in California complain that he is shirking quality in favor of maximizing profits.

 As Crock, Keaton affects a rat like demeanor and his voice is often shrill and brimming with bile. Initially I found this choice to be a little over the top, however Upon viewing the inclusion of super 16mm footage of the real Ray Crock during the end credits I realized that Keaton actually played down this grating trait. Crock was not an apparently likable fellow. Imagine Bob Barker's less appealing brother in a smoking jacket. While by the end of the film it becomes lazily obvious that Crock is nothing but a schemer and crook who is lying to himself about his own greatness and who has built an empire on a foundation of deceit...it isn't so obvious throughout the second act. I felt for Crock every time he hit a wall in innovation or was hampered by the small-mindedness and jeers of others. Perhaps this narrative unease stems from some defect in my character finding virtue in what was obviously written to be a heartless capitalist. However, it seems more likely the result of uneven writing that didn't quite stick the landing in its attempt to portray Crock as nuanced.

The film seems to imply that the biggest defect in Crock's character was his unbridled ambition and that perhaps he should have found solace in his station just as the McDonalds brothers were content with having a single proprietorship. Yet without the vision and guts of Crock we wouldn't have the fast food mega giant that we have today. Billions have spoken and we have all apparently found utility in McDonald's specific brand of fast food. It's just a little disingenuous to view a screed against ambition and tenacity by people who are making films in Hollywood, a business that nobody just stumbles into.