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With: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Justin Randell Brooke, Kate Kneeland, Patrick Wilson
Written by: Robert D. Siegel
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 115
Date: 01/20/2017

The Founder (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Big Cheese

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, The Founder is a movie about Ray Kroc, who was not really the founder of the McDonald's restaurant chain, but certainly was the driving force that turned it into a burger behemoth.

Perhaps the most pressing question about the movie is this: does The Founder make you want to run out and grab a tasty cheeseburger and maybe some fries? Or does it make you want to avoid the Golden Arches forever?

The answer is neither. It makes you want to time-travel back to the 1950s to dine at the very first McDonald's restaurant in San Bernardino, where the food looked much tastier and more wholesome.

It also makes you want to hug the original McDonald brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch); according to the movie, they mainly wanted to keep their vision pure, and their food excellent.

It's Kroc (Michael Keaton) who made millions turning it into a franchise that gave fast food a bad name. Yet, as directed by the skilled John Lee Hancock, The Founder presents Kroc as a complex character, part American dreamer, part hero, and part scoundrel.

Keaton is terrific in his role, beginning as a slick salesman, trying to unload machines that make five milkshakes at once. McDonald's becomes his only customer.

There, he orders a delicious lunch, and gets a behind-the-scenes viewing of the brothers' smooth, assembly-line system. He's so excited that he wants a piece of it.

He convinces the brothers to sign a good-faith contract, and then spends the rest of the film trying to get out of it, scheming ways to go cheaper, and bigger, for larger profits; this includes swapping real milkshakes for a kind of processed, powdered drink that doesn't need refrigeration. (Yuk.)

Director Hancock has made a few other biographical movies, including the excellent The Rookie and Saving Mr. Banks, both of which sport a clear, commanding frame and a simple, yet subtle technique; he makes room for the messiness and uncertainty of life.

Perhaps because of its time period, the women in this story don't have much to do. Laura Dern plays Kroc's first wife who stays home and doesn't get his ambitions. He swaps her for Linda Cardellini, stealing her from one of his investors.

One of the movie's best assets is the jovial score by Carter Burwell, which underlines Kroc's deceptively likable, greasy spiel.

Combined with Keaton's canny performance, it creates a strong portrait of a man who clawed his way to the top of the American Dream, but didn't care if his claws left marks.

Just as they eventually gave up on The Founder in theaters and at awards time, the Weinsteins have given it a fairly bare-bones home video release. The Blu-ray/DVD combo from Anchor Bay comes with a digital copy, a few short studio-produced EPKs (totaling 20 minutes), and a 37-minute press conference. The video image captures a slightly sun-bleached look, but the food is bold and colorful and looks delicious. Sound is bright and cheerful.

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