A Sluggish Production that Insults Viewers’ Intelligence
Trial By Films fully expected The Founder to be in Hitchaboo conversation when this film was first announced…a star enjoying a career renaissance (Michael Keaton – Birdman, Spotlight), a director with a Hitchaboo resume (John Lee Hancock – Saving Mr. Banks), and a story billed as The Social Network meets the fast food industry. In July 2016, The Founder was moved from a summer release to an award season December release. But when Fall 2016 came around and there was a void in place of the typical distribution company awards push for The Founder, we started to wonder what was going on. Was this movie Academy bait or was it being buried? Maybe the production company was just waiting to push it to the last minute to keep fresh in voters’ minds; but that never happened. Then word came out that The Founder was having a wide theatrical release in late January 2017.
It was official: The industry was not signing on for this one. Let’s see if they were right to do so…
The Founder is the story of Ray Kroc, the titular ‘Founder’ of the McDonald’s fast food empire; but not all is as it seems. McDonald’s isn’t called ‘Kroc’s’ because Kroc wasn’t the true founder…he was simply the ruthless, shrewd door-to-door salesman who stood on the shoulders of others. The Founder required slick direction from Hancock and an enigmatic performance from Keaton to make this story pop, and the absence of those attributes is only the beginning of the trouble with this film.
The Founder is a predictable, color-by-numbers production that never gets going. Nothing about Hancock’s direction is noteworthy. If cinematography is ‘the art’ of using camera techniques to create tone…establish atmosphere…develop emotional resonance; then The Founder is completely lacking in cinematography. Hancock’s film comes across as an expensively produced ‘made-for-television’ film. By the time our anti-hero (Keaton’s Ray Kroc) has swindled the earnest McDonald brothers out of their concept and a montage sequence commences showing the fast-food empire’s national expansion, we questioned if this film was storyboarded in the 1980s…it felt that stale. Further to complicate this mess; the score was heavy and disconnected from what was on screen.
It’s also worth mentioning that there were odd McDonald’s insider jokes that would leave most viewers baffled – like who is Fred Turner and why was he so prominently highlighted early on, to never be seen again? You could search on-line, but the answer isn’t worth the effort.
The acting talent is equally responsible for this hackneyed film. Keaton tries his best to bring the intensity needed but his cadence is far removed from the sluggish pace of The Founder, and it never melds. This film can’t keep up with Keaton, but that is the closest Keaton is going to get to an endorsement. Keaton earns his share of the blame as his portrayal of Kroc is peculiar and uninteresting.
Worst of all, the writer and director have little respect for an audience that they believe can only understand character motivations and plot development if it is blatantly shoved in their face. There is no need to further delve into the issues of The Founder. The distribution company keenly saw what was going on with this film and we should do as they did…bury it from sight.
- Directing: 2/10 – Listless and dull
- Production: 5/10 – A high-end TV movie
- Acting: 6/10 – Keaton tried but it never works
- Screenwriting: 3/10 – Disrespectfully underestimates viewers’ intelligence
4/10, Don’t waste your time with The Founder – director John Lee Hancock didn’t