One could be forgiven for assuming that something must be wrong with John Lee Hancock‘s The Founder. On paper, the Weinstein Co. film about the late McDonald’s mastermind Ray Kroc sounded like Oscar bait, but its release date has bounced all over the calendar. The movie originally was set for Nov. 25. But then back in March, it was moved up to Aug. 4.
Several months later, in July, it was pushed back to Dec. 16, for a limited awards-qualifying run, and Jan. 20 for a wide release. In the meantime, TWC was hit with box-office setbacks and staff departures, leading some to wonder if the Kroc film — in which Michael Keaton stars as the struggling salesman who became “an overnight success” at 52 — would ever see the light of day.
While one could be forgiven for that assumption, one also would be sorely mistaken. I finally was shown The Founder this week — as were a number of other awards pundits and two audiences of SAG Awards nominating-committee members. That suggests TWC has confidence in the film’s prospects, and I can report that it’s not only not bad, but is so good that it may be a serious contender, after all.
That’s largely because of Keaton. Coming off of his performances in 2014’s Birdman and 2015’s Spotlight, he gives a performance in the same league as the ones he gave in those films (he personally was nominated for the former pic but snubbed for the latter). He has plenty of screen time, too, appearing in every scene, and convincingly captures the sheer force-of-will that propelled Kroc, so TWC should be able to make a strong case for him in what’s looking like a weak year for the best actor Oscar. Indeed, if Keaton were to get nominated alongside the category’s two presumptive frontrunners — Fences‘ Denzel Washington, who already has two Oscar statuettes on his shelf, and Manchester by the Sea‘s Casey Affleck, a young buck still early in his career — I would say all bets are off.
The Founder‘s script, written by Robert D. Siegel, clearly was inspired by Kroc’s 1977 best-selling McMemoir Grinding It Out, which I recently read. And the resulting film, like Hancock’s 2009 film version of Michael Lewis‘ The Blind Side, impeccably captures the tone and tenor of the source material. The RottenTomatoes.com rating of The Blind Side was an abysmal 66 percent, but the movie, which told an inspirational story about a plain-spoken underdog finding success, spoke to middle-America (like a recent presidential candidate you might recall), grossed more than $250 million domestically, was nominated for the best picture Oscar and garnered a lead acting Oscar for Sandra Bullock.
That same description also applies to The Founder, so TWC would be wise not to place all of its chips on Lion this season.