Food for thought: ‘The Founder’ explores the origins of McDonald’s

Michael Keaton is fast-food game-changer Ray Kroc.

Three stars

The Founder Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch. Directed by John Lee Hancock. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday in select theaters.

The story of how businessman Ray Kroc essentially stole the McDonald’s empire from brothers Dick and Mac McDonald has the makings of a fascinatingly dark drama about greed and betrayal, along the lines of David Fincher’s The Social Network. The filmmakers behind The Founder only get about halfway there, though, seemingly not quite sure whether they want to make a tribute to one of America’s most beloved brands or expose the dark underbelly of its origins.

Even so, The Founder is quite entertaining, just in the way it lays out the unlikely rise of a corporate behemoth. Michael Keaton is endearingly slimy as Ray, an itinerant salesman still hustling to make a living into his 50s, who comes across a roadside burger stand run by Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch). He sees the potential in their radically efficient kitchen setup, and signs them to a franchise agreement that essentially creates the concept of fast food.

As Ray grows more power-hungry in contrast to the humble McDonald brothers (and to the frustration of his long-suffering wife, played by a wasted Laura Dern), the movie gets darker, and that’s where it succeeds most, in exploring how business ambitions can ruin craft and ingenuity. Overall, though, The Founder lacks real bite, delivering a fast-food version of more substantial true-life narratives.

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