Film Review: The Founder

Director John Lee Hancock’s The Founder is memorable thanks to a charismatic performance from the always watchable Michael Keaton.

Ray Kroc is a milkshake machine sales man struggling for orders. When burger restaurant McDonald’s places an order, Ray is astounded by their innovative take on diner service. Ray wants to franchise the restaurant, but must convince owners Dick and Mac McDonald…

The Founder is essentially the story of how McDonald’s went from a single eatery in San Bernardino, California, to one of the most recognisable brands in the world. However, the film is the tale of an anti-hero in a world that goes beyond black and white depictions.

The most interesting thing about The Founder is that it avoids the common archetypes. Ray Kroc is portrayed as a multi-faceted protagonist. He is neither the hardworking guy who helps to monetise a great idea, nor the greedy, unscrupulous salesman who gets rich from the invention of others. Instead, he sits somewhere in between. The film is all the better for not casting too firm a judgement on his character. Similarly, his interactions with others, ranging from charming to nasty, further reflect that this is a flawed but believable character.

As the film progresses, it is clear that there will not be a satisfactory outcome for the McDonald brothers. Yet again, these two characters are not depicted exclusively as victims, although it is hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for them by the end of the movie. Nevertheless, the brothers are not depicted in an entirely positive light (their resistance to new ideas, for example), again echoing the light and shade of the central character. The film is predictable in places, but decent storytelling and good performances make it worthwhile.

Michael Keaton is fantastic as Ray Kroc. Keaton brings a nervous energy to the role, ramping it up in key scenes to deliver a most convincing performance. John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman are decent as the McDonald brothers, whilst Linda Cardellini is memorable in a minor role. Laura Dern is great as the weary wife Ethel Kroc.

The Founder pulls no punches in telling the origins tale of one of the world’s largest corporations. The film is a wonderful showcase for Michael Keaton’s talents.

Film Review: Saving Mr Banks

SAVING MR. BANKS

Saving Mr Banks is warm, humorous, and quintessentially Disney.

P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, is being pursued by Walt Disney to sign over the rights to the company. As she travels to meet the filmmakers, Travers reflects on her childhood…

Saving Mr Banks focuses on a short period when P.L. Travers met with Walt Disney and his creative team to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. Over the course of the film, action jumps between the pre-production of Mary Poppins and the recollections of Travers’ childhood.

The two co-existing narratives act almost as the humorous (the 1960s) and the dramatic (1900s) sides to the film. Given the themes of fantasy, and the duality of characters, this device is effective. Saving Mr Banks is also successful when the two narratives intertwine.

Director John Lee Hancock’s film is about the power of whimsy as much as it is about memory and the relationship between recollection and the imagination. Saving Mr Banks is an endorsement of the effect of fantasy on its audience. In doing so, it promotes the output of the Disney company itself.

Saving Mr Banks is an interesting product as a film made by Disney about Disney. The film does promote the company, but does not shy away from depicting less flattering aspects. P.L. Trravers’ reaction to the company, and indeed to Walt Disney himself, is cause for frequent amusement.

Emma Thompson delivers an affecting performance as P.L. Travers. Tom Hanks is competent as ever as Walt Disney, whilst Paul Giamatti shines in a small role.

Saving Mr Banks is an entertaining back story to a much loved movie. With its comedy, emotion and spirit, the film does not disappoint.

Saving Mr Banks closed the BFI London Film Festival on 20th October 2013. The film is on general release from 29th November 2013.