The title of this burger-based biopic drips with irony: businessman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) may have sold himself as the founder of the McDonald's empire, but the truth was a little different. Kroc was an on-the-road milkshake mixer salesman when he stumbled across the McDonald brothers and their Speedee Service System, a fast-food assembly line that would revolutionise the restaurant industry. In the ensuing years, Kroc oversaw the spread of McDonald's franchises across the US, transforming a modest California burger joint into one of the world’s largest food corporations.
At heart, this is yet another story of an ambitious man who gains the world but loses his soul (shots of Kroc framed at his desk like Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather Part II’ hammer the point home). The cast is uniformly superb: Keaton is all slick surface charm and underlying bulldog snarl as Kroc, while Laura Dern suffers in silence as his decent wife Ethel. The two liveliest performances come from Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as Dick and Mac McDonald, the down-home brothers whose efforts to keep Kroc on a short leash are doomed to failure.
As a study of amoral ambition and corporate cruelty, this is undoubtedly timely, and the script smartly pokes holes in notions of ‘be all you can be’ American exceptionalism. But both the 1950s suburban setting and Kroc’s avaricious trajectory are just too familiar: there’s nothing here we didn’t see in ‘Mad Men’, and 'Saving Mr Banks’ director John Lee Hancock never manages to make it feel new. Like the product that inspired it, ‘The Founder’ is tasty enough while it lasts but never quite fills you up.