The Founder (4 stars)

The Founder

Michael Keaton is on fire in the story of the men behind McDonald's, directed by John Lee Hancock

The story of the men behind McDonald's, this 1950s-set dramedy from John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr Banks) is like The Social Network sandwiched between two sesame seed buns. This is not a film about the invention of the Big Mac or those nuclear-hot apple pies – or even about the way the world's biggest fast food chain changed our eating habits. Rather, it's about the fulfilment of an American dream and the ruthless battles that took place beneath those golden arches.

Who is the founder of the title? Is it Dick or Mac McDonald (played here by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), who took a tiny hotdog stand and grew it into an ingenious San Bernardino burger joint that bore their surname? Or is it Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the travelling salesman who signs a deal with the siblings to franchise their concepts across the country?

Scripted by Robert D Siegel (The Wrestler), The Founder is a fascinating study in ambition. Brilliantly played by Keaton, who is even better here than in the flashier Birdman, Kroc is the embodiment of capitalism, as he gradually builds McDonald's into a nationwide success, edging out the wary brothers as he goes. Like David Fincher's aforementioned Facebook formation film, the interest lies not in the product but the people behind it – proof that history is so often written by the winners.

The female cast members draw the short straws with Laura Dern in an underwritten role as Kroc's first wife Ethel, and Linda Cardellini faring little better as his third Joan. Yet the end result is an absorbing account of a cultural (and culinary) phenomenon that will leave audiences divided. Some will sympathise with Dick and Mac, others will cheer on the brazen Kroc. But all should be able to recognise just what a fine job Hancock et al have done.

General release from Fri 17 Feb.

The Founder

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 55min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: John Lee Hancock
  • Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch
  • UK release: 17 February 2017

The story of Ray Kroc (Keaton), a salesman who turned the burger restaurant of Dick and Mac McDonald (Offerman & Carroll Lynch) into the biggest fast food enterprise in the world. Keaton is on fire as the grasping, ruthless Kroc and it's a fascinating study in ambition.