The Michael Keaton Oscar should-have-been looks and sounds good on Blu-ray.
By Matt Cummings
McDonald’s seems to occupy a unique place of curiosity in our world, as either something to bemoan as an example of the downfall of mankind or to be hailed as a staple crop. No matter what side of the fry station you find yourself, one can’t help but know a large swath of Americans who have either enjoyed one of their past meals at a McDonald’s or who make it a part of their weekly routine. Debates about its healthiness are sure to be a subject of medical studies for years to come, but one thing that cannot be denied is its ties to America’s culture. It’s become a ubiquitous symbol for America’s desire to have everything as fast and as cheap as possible; but its origins are almost as interesting as the healthy food community’s rather fair concerns about what the company peddles. And while THE FOUNDER doesn’t even touch this (consider SUPER SIZE ME as a suitable alternative), it does produce a fine biopic about the darker days of McDonald’s origins. Its arrival on Blu-ray sports good video, solid audio, but only a sprinkling of worthy supplements.
Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling milkshake machine salesman in 1954 Missouri who dreams of hitting it big so he can provide for his wife Ethel (Laura Dern). Kroc has tried and failed several times to produce a great business, and with rejections piling up, the weight of failure begins to add up. That is, until he receives an order for six of his machines by two brothers in San Bernardino, California who can’t seem to produce enough of the frosty treats. Intrigued by the huge order, Kroc drives across the country to witness how Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) plan to use his machines. He realizes that the McDonalds have a winning system because they produce cheap, great-tasting food at a fraction of the cost of a traditional hamburger stand, and appeals to the brothers to expand the business into other states. Worried about losing control, the brothers initially reject the idea, but Kroc is relentless, eventually convincing them to let him in. Unfortunately, the brothers don’t realize until too late that Kroc is also looking to take control, and take control he will. By the time it’s all over, the brothers will lose their company, Kroc will lose his marriage, and the company he will build will become a national icon.
It’s safe to say that THE FOUNDER only attracted a specific kind of viewer (that being critics and few of them exactly keen to McDonald’s current reputation), which is probably why it was never (ever) in the running for an Oscar. Subjects like these don’t appeal to MPAS, who seem to love feel-good success stories over ones that show the darker side of success. That’s too bad, because what we get here is a masterful performance by Keaton, who slowly draws the audience in by corrupting his character with unimaginable success. But that’s not Kroc at first,
and so we get to ‘grow’ with him as he matures from smallish businessman with a nice smile and slick message to a robber baron. Much like a superhero who begins to cross the line to defend their city, Keaton slowly corrupts Kroc into a villain who is intoxicated by his success, eventually stealing a client’s wife (Linda Cardinelli) and screwing the McDonalds for future profits. It’s such a wonderful performance that we don’t have a clear idea of whether or not to hate him until literally the last few lines of THE FOUNDER, set up brilliantly throughout by Director John Lee. Once the lights come up, we realize that he has led us down the same path Kroc took the McDonalds, winning us over with his smile but succumbing to man who didn’t realize just how driven, calculating, and cold he could be.
Lee fuels Keaton’s performance with a great script by Robert D. Siegel and a well-chosen cast including Carroll and Offerman, who demonstrate their collective dramatic chops. Dern isn’t in THE FOUNDER as much as I would have liked, but that would have extended things beyond its 115-minute runtime, which already feels like a bit much. But it’s a great film otherwise, proving once again that American innovation does continue to dole out winners and losers, pitting friends against one another as profits begin to climb. FOUNDER shows us the darker side of our beloved Demand Economy, filling our plate with an Oscar should-have-been and offering a unique playlist for us to consider: watch this one for the human story, then SUPER SIZE ME to witness the potential damage it does to our bodies.
Shot with a collection of digital cameras including the Arri Alexa XT, Starz/Anchor Bay’s presentation of THE FOUNDER arrives courtesy of a MPEG-4 AVC transfer that’s competent but uninspiring. The overall image is very bright, which shows off a ton of detail but also blots out the sky when Ray arrives in California. Detail on sets, such as the bench Ray sits down on to eat his burger, shows off nicks and scratches in the paint. Clothing during indoor shots look a lot better than in outdoor ones, as do various human features. We can see age lines in Keaton’s face and fair detail in his short hair, while female attributes stand out like Cardinelli’s very blonde hair and gorgeous red dress. While THE FOUNDER merely doesn’t screw these elements up, it’s the colors that hit a homerun. Reds and browns are saturated just enough, while the golden arches and neon in general project outward against the night sky. The green of a farmer’s field look lifelike while the blue of Kroc’s car reveal fading in the door panels. Everything here is made to reflect 1954, and taken from that perspective the print does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Still, some blurriness pervades as does a general flatness to the image, due possibly to the Alexa. It’s a quality image but nothing approaching reference.
THE FOUNDER is presented by Starz/Anchor Bay with a surprising DTS-HD Master Audio track. For a film focusing on the dramatic takeover of a company, there’s quite a bit happening in this lossless transfer. Dialogue, the key point of the film, is clear and easy to understand, even though it’s merely dialed up from the sound effects and music. The fronts deliver some preciseness, but it’s the surrounds that keep this track from getting fried at the burger station. We hear plenty of outdoor noises, inclduing crickets, birds, and even the occasional buzz of a neon sign. We enjoy crowd noise inside the original restaurant, and background conversations in the Chicago steakhouse when Kroc meets Rollie and Joan Smith (Patrick Wilson and Cardinelli). The melancholy score by Composer Carter Burwell pops up quite often, filling the room before handing it back off the sizzle of burgers and fries being cooked. This is no reference quality product, but it’s nice to see attention was placed in making this as immersive an experience as possible.
Sadly, THE FOUNDER’s supplements are supposed to supplant the need for a commentary track, but instead show why one is needed. At least what we get here is presented in HD:
- Behind the Scenes Gallery: This five-part feature includes various aspects of the film’s production. Segments include The Story Behind the Story (4:32), Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc (3:08), The McDonald Brothers (4:01), The Production Design (7:06), and Building McDonald’s: Time Lapse Video (1:21). While very interesting and somewhat enlightening, this should have existed alongside a director’s commentary. For a film this controversial, it’s important to know what attracted far director to this engrossing angle.
- Press Conference with Filmmakers and Cast (37:44): Taken from the January 12, 2017 event with some of the film’s cast and crew.
- Trailers: LION, SING STREET
Our evaluation copy arrived as a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack and a UV/iTunes digital copy voucher. The slipcase is colorful like the golden arches, but there’s no raised lettering or interior artwork. At the time of this posting, we were not aware of any special versions.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s probably a reason why THE FOUNDER never made it to the Oscars. Its controversial message about corporate greed and the way Ray Croc is poisoned by it does not exactly make him a likable person nor a marketable film for an award it frankly doesn’t need. THE FOUNDER pulls no punches to show how cutthroat a person can become when a business begins to make a profit, but it’s well executed and definitely worth your time as a rental. I can’t recommend it for purchase, as its lack of supplements and good (but not great) transfers keep it from deserving a prized location on your Blu-ray rack. It will play very well on pay services, and might lead you to question what kind of a corporation McDonald’s has become, even though some claim it’s now the cheapest and most healthy food you can eat. You won’t feel that way after watching it, but that’s exactly the point.
FOUNDER is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and has a runtime of 115 minutes.