“Tolkien” BioPic Movie Review

One of the world’s most engaging authors in one of the world’s most un-engaging biopics. Go behind the prolific fantasy writing, linguistics, and mythology to discover the origins of author J.R.R. Tolkien. From his early childhood as an orphan to his studies and teaching at Oxford, follow the famed author on his own unexpected journey to eventually pen those iconic words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Biopics are often challenged with balancing what the audience wants to see with the reality of what was, both the attractive, inspiring moments and, if applicable, the gruesome or repulsive. And over all, Tolkien does an adequate job of highlighting the personal history of Tolkien (tol-Keen); however, where the biopic does not deliver is evoking a significant emotional response from the audience. If you’ve read that it comes off as a glorified Wikipedia article, then don’t worry, that is not true. But, it isn’t an I, TonyaTheory of Everything, or Amadeus either. As biopics go, it is pretty much middle of the road. Though the story may not be as fascinating or gripping as audiences want, it does deliver command performances by Hoult, Collins, and JRR’s three best friends. In addition to the impeccable casting, the production design is gorgeous and the score is compelling. Sometimes biopics make the mistake of treating the subject with too much reverence, thus overlooking or glossing over low points or decisions that place the subject in a less than favorable light. And, without knowing a detailed history of his life, I am left with the real possibility that this biopic did just that. Perhaps it’s the oversimplification of Tolkien’s quasi-privileged life that predisposes the screenplay to falling short of evoking strong emotion from the audience. If there is one message that is clear from this biopic, it’s that imagination served as an escape from the obstacles and trials of life, especially during WWI.

Years before he would write The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien found himself in a childhood fellowship with three other outcasts at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England after his mom, who would regale him of stories of dragons and knights, unexpectedly passed away. This close friendship would follow him all the way through to college and even into WWI. These four friends would draw upon one another for courage and artistic expression. Taking inspiration from his own fellowship including the personal/interpersonal challenges Tolkien faced as he and his friends challenged one another and his affections for Edith Bratt, Tolkien reflected on these experiences to write The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Although the scenes from WWI serve as a framing device for this biopic, it is the formidable years spent at King Edward’s School and Oxford that truly defined Tolkien and set him up for his timeless masterpieces. Had the movie taken a more linear approach, the story may have been much more impactful. As it stands, there is so much oscillation between the “present day” moments and the flash forwards/backwards (yes, there are both in this movie) that it was difficult to focus. The majority of the movie takes place at Oxford, but the number of flashbacks and flashforwards took me out of the story periodically. Flashbacks can be a useful storytelling tool, to provide visual exposition, but they are often misused. Had this movie followed the approach that Fried Green Tomatoes took with the use of present-day and flashbacks, then I think it would have delivered more powerful story. Although as a screenwriting lecturer I recommend that my students not use flashbacks because of how tricky it can be to integrate them in such a way that they advance the plot, if a screenwriter chooses to use flashbacks, then the writer has to make sure that the flashback or flashforward works to move the plot forward–add something of value to the story. With Tolkien, the flashbacks do little more than frame the story. Other than some impressive visuals and opening a window into the world that inspired and shaped Tolkien, these moments do not significantly advance the plot in meaningful ways.

With Tolkien’s infatuation with (future wife) Edith Bratt, there was certainly opportunity to turn this into a romance, shifting focus away from the fellowship Tolkien had with his three close male friends. Thankfully, the romance between Tolkien and Edith was a nice B story to our A story. I say B story instead of subplot because it is a counterpart to the main outside action plot (story A). Furthermore, the romance between the two does heavily influence the and even inspire the romance between future characters Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. From romantic to close platonic relationships, that is truly what the plot of the biopic is about. Throughout the movie, you will encounter various relationships that Tolkien experienced during his life. Although we don’t spend much time with him and his younger brother, it is well-established that he has a moderately strong relationship with his brother. Furthermore, we see that Tolkien had a strong relationship with his mother, whom helped to shape his imagination in his younger years. It is widely known that Tolkien was a Catholic, but that is not highlighted in the movie (and it isn’t missed) but it’s that element that explains why the family priest is his legal guardian. Tolkien and the priest have a contentious relationship, but it is clear that the priest wants Tolkien to succeed in life. We don’t get to spend much time with his foster mom, but she seems to understand Tolkien and Edith’s relationship. Before getting to focal relationships, Tolkien has a strong relationship with his mentor and professor whom is chiefly responsible for Tolkien pursuing his scholarly studies at Oxford.

The central relationship(s) in the movie is between Tolkien and colleagues Christopher, Geoffrey, and Robert. For most of the movie, they are shown to be as close as brothers, but I appreciate the movie spending some time on the development of the relationships. What starts out as heavy conflict (that even devolves into physical altercations), soon evolves into the kind of friendships that you and I hope to have with close friends that ostensibly become our family. Despite Tolkien not coming from wealthy families like his friends, they share one very important thing in common: a desire to change the world through art. Each of the boys has a different interest, but they each inspire one another to stand up to the obstacles of life and achieve what each deeply desires. Of all his friends, Tolkien was closest to Geoffrey, whom was tragically killed during WWI along with Robert. Christopher is the only survivor out of Tolkien’s three friends. While Christopher’s scares (we are led to believe they are more emotional/psychological than physical) impacted his ability to compose music, Tolkien harnessed the atrocities of war to inspire The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I absolutely love the depiction of close friendship between these young men because we seem to have very few examples of this level of male companionship in cinema, by in large. Many of the closest friendships are often shown between women. The structure of the plot keeps the movie from being as inspirational as it could have been, but there is still a lot to like here.

As biopics go, this one is middle of the road. It is not outstanding nor is it a bore. For fans of the author, I feel that you will get quite a lot out of the movie. The impeccable casting is the strength of this story. Each actor/actress delivers solid performances. Whether you are more familiar with the books or movies, you will find surrogates for notable characters throughout Tolkien’s most famous writing. Interestingly, the late author’s estate released a statement saying that Tolkien’s family members “do not endorse it or its content in any way.” In fact, the estate has yet to see the movie. Perhaps its the exclusion of nuances that the family is aware of in the author’s life, but I am unable to see why any parts of this biopic are controversial in any way. If you enjoy reading his books or watching the movies that were inspired by them, then you should see this biopic. Not because it is an outstanding motion picture, but because it does give you insight into the real world of Tolkien.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Bohemian Rhapsody” full film review

Ready Freddie? Adapted from the Queen Wikipedia article, comes the anticipated tribute film Bohemian Rhapsody. Mostly directed by Bryan Singer, but after his unexpected departure, directed by Dexter Fletcher, this could be one of the first films to almost not be a film at all, yet produce an Oscar-worthy performance in Malek’s Freddie. It’s a good thing that your favorite Queen songs are sort of in the movie because the screenplay is off key. In short, the problem with this biographical film can be traced back to the weak writing and misguided direction. Anytime a film has to change directors in the middle of production (for whatever the reason), the film has a high chance of suffering in the transfer of power. There are exceptions; for instance, Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper and Spielberg, and became one of the best horror films of all time. On the topic of writing, paraphrasing Hitchcock, a writer (or director) should start the scene as close to the end of the scene as possible in order to streamline the plot and keep the focus on conflict moving the scene forward. Unfortunately, this movie starts each scene as close to the beginning of the scene as possible and cuts it off just before the ending. Whereas the camera lingered in A Star is Born in order to allow the emotion of the scene to sink in, this camera lacks focus and moves around the scene in a way to document what is doing on, not show us the story and subtext. Speaking of subtext, Bohemian Rhapsody is very much a textbook example of “on the nose” storytelling. There is a great lack of subtext anywhere in the film.

A celebration of the timeless music of Queen, this film chronicles the band’s beginnings to the famous Live Aid concert. Following the band from playing in bars to headlining sellout concerts at world-famous venues, this film takes you behind the scenes to watch the development of the band and–also–spending some time with Freddie’s personal life. Witness Freddie Mercury defy what his family wanted for him and what popular culture defined as a lead singer, and become the icon that he is.

Although the film is lacking in almost every area of storytelling, there is one standout element that cannot be ignored, despite the poor writing and direction. And that is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. Now, I am not a huge Queen fan; yes, I know the same handful of Queen songs that most people know and really enjoy listening and rocking out to them. But, I do not know enough about Freddie in order to know how close Malek’s performance was to capturing the real man. Mainly because I was a really young when he passed away. However, even not knowing much about the real Freddie, I can still assess a great performance, and Malek’s impressed me from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him! The commitment to his character is incredible. Not only does he resemble Freddie, but at no point did I ever feel that I was watching an actor play Freddie, but it was like watching Freddie himself (what I know about Freddie, anyway). It will be interesting to watch to see whether or not he gets an Actor in a Leading Role nomination even though the rest of the film will not likely show up on the Academy’s radar. Perhaps the film would have been better if it had been a Freddie Mercury biopic instead of covering the band as a whole. But due to Queen having so much control over the story, the focus consistently shifts from Freddie to the band so that there is no true direction for the conflict to go in order to deliver a powerhouse of a film.

The storytelling is so incredibly disconnected that there are moments that do not feel like a movie at all. Other than the recreation of the Live Aid performance (with a crowds of bad CGI and real shots of the same group of spectators over and over), the best scenes in the film are during the intimate moments between Freddie and Mary. These are the only times that I feel that the film is diving deep, and attempting to evoke emotional responses from the audience. Even during some of the moments that should have been the most gut-wrenching and impactful such as Freddie’s coming out or when he finds out that he has AIDS, just play off as surface-level; they fall flat. Never once does this film dive deep into anything. As soon as the story is about to hit a home-run, it bunts the ball. Fasts-forward to first base, if you will. I am also shocked at the lack of music in this movie. With the title being Bohemian Rhapsody and being about Queen, I half expected that moments would feel like a rock concert. By no means, did I want to watch a 2hr music video or vicariously attend a concert, but I had hoped that the music would have been a bigger part of the story. And the title song is not a significant part of the movie. Honestly, a more precise title would have sinply been QueenBohemian Rhapsody is never completely performed in its entirety.

If you don’t like to read Wikipedia articles, but want to learn the same information, then checkout Bohemian Rhapsody this weekend. Or if you are a fan of the entire band–not just Freddie–then this movie is for you. Although you get very few songs performed in their entirety, you will hear Under Pressure, We Will Rock YouWe Are the Champions, and others.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“I, Tonya” film review

Of skates and class. Margot Robbie stars as the first US woman to successfully land a triple axel…also the most infamous woman in the history of US Figure Skating in what is likely one of the most difficult and controversial biographical films ever produced. Tonya Harding is back in the headlines and on TV, and even on the ice if you caught last night’s 2-hour Truth and Lies special on ABC. While most Olympiad names are forgotten within a short amount of time, Harding and Nancy Kerrigan’s names will always have notoriety through the years. Nearly 25 years later, we find ourselves still talking about Tonya Harding. The biopic I, Tonya directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers provides audiences with an unapologetic glimpse into Harding’s early life through “the incident.” It is unlike any biographical film that I have ever seen before. Most often, biopics slant toward making the central character more likable than perhaps they were in real life. This film approaches Harding from the perspective of not shying away from her foul-mouthed, inability to take responsibility, violent temper; instead, showing us an authentic Harding who struggled through life to break the chains of classless poverty and emerge onto the scene as a professional figure skating record-setting champion. While this movie does not set out to prove what really happened, it does show what is likely to have happened. Although “the incident” is what everyone remembers, this movie shows a struggling young person attempting to change but thwarted at every angle by hearing that she cannot because she isn’t what America is looking for and has no class. But why couldn’t it have been just about the skating???

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) took to ice like a fish takes to water. She was an ice skating prodigy from the soft age of four when she took her first lesson from coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson). Growing up poor, she faced obstacle at every triple toe loop. From mental and physical abuse to sexual abuse, she weathered it all. Her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) was a monster of a woman who pushed and pushed in order to toughen “soft” Tonya. Even hot-tempered Tonya found love–albeit brief–with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). The mental and physical abuse continued and only worsened after she set the world record for being the first US woman to successfully land a triple axel in 1991. But she would come in fourth in the 1992 Olympics. She fell into despair after that crushing defeat. When the US Figure Skating association gives Harding a second chance at the 1994 Winter Olympics, all seems like it is finally going her way, and she would finally experience the success she dreamt of her entire life, until “the incident.” Of course, as we all know, she went on to become a national punchline, material for comedians and sitcoms, and the most well-known name in the US after Bill Clinton.

Even though crime and ice skating are central elements in this film, it is truly a commentary on class and abuse. From the moment the movie opens with Harding and her mother smoking a cigarette at the ice rink in Harding’s hometown of Portland juxtaposing them against the pretty and proper coach with her students, we know that we are about to watch a story of class warfare. All Harding wanted was to excel at the sport she was naturally gifted at. Only one small problem: society and the figure skating association made it incredibly difficult–if not nearly impossible–for Tonya Harding to break free of her roots in classless poverty. But don’t allow the beginning of the film fool you into thinking she Harding is a kind soul who finds herself the underdog, she has a volatile temper and foul mouth that constantly gets her into trouble during practice and in competition. This film is an underdog story, but quite the unconventional one. Because we already know going in that she went from the first woman to land a triple axel, national champion to disgraced skater and unsuccessful boxer. For all its various plot points, the common theme throughout the movie is whether or not to allow your financial station in life to determine your behavior on and off the ice. Class has little to do with money, but rather, is a state of mind and demeanor. Perhaps we have a better idea of why Tonya behaved the way she did. The film never excuses her behavior or indirect knowledge (after the fact) of what her husband mastermind, but peels back the 24-hr 1990s news coverage in order to empathize and understand what made Tonya tick.

Is it possible for a square peg to fit into a round hole? Certainly, the life of a figure skater, especially one who represents the US on the global stage, is incredibly structured, polished, and constructed in such a way that the skater always looks his or her best to the public–a facade if you will. But, the once bright career of Harding serves as evidence that if you don’t come from the right family, have the right costume (or clothes), or speak eloquently, then the arena has no place for you. Perhaps that is why Harding still has fans despite her infamy. Although according to the film, she could have spoken up a lot sooner to help the investigation along instead of being fully consumed by having to make the 1994 Olympic team and indirectly covering for her ex-husband, she was dealt a dirty hand by judges and rivals who felt she just didn’t belong with them; and America generally liked an underdog. Unfortunately, this underdog got caught up in a scandal the followed a long history of irreverent behavior. The media coverage certainly did not help Harding’s case any. With the availability of CNN’s 24-hour news coverage, birthed out of the Gulf War now able to capture everything in order to have stories constantly grabbing audience attention, the film paints a picture that the media treated her unfairly and convicted her before the court’s decision to prohibit her from ever competing or coaching again, and the subsequent stripping of titles. Just some food for thought.

The topic of abuse is not shied away from in this film. We witness Tonya suffering from the brutal tongue of her mother, as well as constant physical abuse. Because there lacked the number of social programs for the protection of children and teenagers we have today, and schools were not as in tuned to abuse at home, she had little choice but to deal. Eventually, she would succumb to lashing out in similar ways to what which she experienced every day growing up in that house–house, not home. Her mother attempts to rationalize and excise her behavior because she tells Tonya that fear and anger will drive her to be a champion, but that doesn’t change the lasting affect the lifelong abuse had upon Tonya. It’s entirely possible that Tonya sought out Jeff because she was used ot abuse and felt that she needed it. Talk about warped.

The quality of this biopic is incredible! I absolutely loved the “interview” footage in the 4:3  format whereas the main narrative was in 16:9. Felt like we were watching actual news coverage in 1998. At first, I thought we were, but then I recognized Margot Robbie behind the exquisite makeup and costuming job. It has such an organic–no pretense–feel to the film. Robbie and her costars had me fully convinced that they were their respective characters. All around, the commitment to character was outstanding. Robbie commented in an interview that she studied footage of Harding for over a year, and it shows brilliantly! When the actual footage rolls at the end of the film, it is incredibly difficult to tell the real Tonya from her screen counterpart. Robbie’s monologue in front of the mirror is certainly one for the record books because of just how authentic and powerful it is. The production design and cinematography create a time machine; you will feel as though you have been whisked back 20-30 years throughout the film. Authenticity in spades. Director Craig Gillespie should be immensely proud of the film he crafted! Excellent writing, acting, technical elements. This biographic motion picture has it all. And will certainly get you to once again talk about Tonya Harding.

Highly recommend for those who enjoy controversial biographical films. The high profile critics are not exaggerating when referring to it as one of, if not the, best film of the year. There is so much to like, and for some, hate about this film. Whether you believe her to be criminal or not, there is no doubt that you will be blown away by the quality of this motion picture.

“Darkest Hour” film review

Outstanding! A gripping film that serves as a testament to rising above all odds to lead and protect. An inspirational biographical drama during one of the western world’s darkest hours. Gary Oldman’s performance as the famous United Kingdom Prime Minister is absolutely remarkable. For history enthusiasts, you will swear that you are watching THE Winston Churchill battle his own homefront of politicians and protecting against the Nazi advancement prior to the United States stepping in following Pearl Harbor. The impact of this film is greatly enhanced by the release of Nolan’s Dunkirk earlier in 2017 as this film depicts what was going on in Churchill’s office prior to the valiant rescue operation. The climax of the film includes Churchill’s “We Shall Fight” speech that rallied Parlament behind him–at least during WWII. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten chooses to interject as much amusement and humor as possible in order to balance out the otherwise cranky Churchill and the dire, deadly position that the people and government of the United Kingdom were at the time. Although it is not uncommon for historical dramas to take creative liberties in telling a visual, cinematic story, Darkest Hour sticks closely to historic accounts but does add in material that aids in constructing a cinematic film.

A thrilling biographical drama that takes place during the crucial days of the Nazi’s march to the sea to conquer western Europe. With France nearly fallen, the United Kingdom is faced with the most deadly enemy it has ever faced in all centuries leading to this very moment. The United Kingdom is searching for a new Prime Minister in the wake of an abrupt end to Churchill’s predecessor. With both the liberal and conservative sides of parliament at each other’s throats, it would take a special leader to unite the government in order to defeat the Nazis. Generally unpopular, but being the only public servant that had the least opposition from both sides, Churchill was a reluctant choice by the King and his colleagues in Parliament. Darkest Hour depicts Churchill’s rise to power and the giants he faced on his first days in office. While he is known to be an unapologetic monolith, a force to be reckoned with, this film also shows his more humble side. All within the span of a few weeks, Churchill is tasked with leading Parliment, unifying the government and people, and protecting the free world.

If you haven’t seen Dunkirk, you should watch it prior to Darkest Hour or at the very least follow up with it because it helps to paint a portrait of what was facing Churchill on his first day in office. Oldman’s performance is nothing shy of exceptional. Although all the performances are excellent, including Lily James’ supporting role, Oldman’s contribution to the film aids in creating the masterpiece that is Darkest Hour. The altruistic behaviors and vulnerable sides of Churchill are brilliantly woven into the narrative, an important move because in films past, he was always shown to be the brilliant orator and rallier that history remembers him as. Oldman’s commitment to character, in terms of speech, posture, and more is incredible; his personal commitment aside, the overall look and feel of Churchill is supported by amazing makeup work and costuming. The energy that each and every character brings to the screen is unquestionably precise and highly effective. While this is a story that takes place during wartime, the character-driven nature of the film is more closely aligned with a heavy courtroom drama than a typical war film. No mistaking it, it is still a war movie, just not in the traditional sense.

While the actors can bring unique, exceptional energy and screen presence to a film, it is often built upon the foundation of excellent writing. Despite the film exceeding the two-hour mark, no scene ever comes across as filler, unnecessary, or simply extra information. Screenwriter McCarten’s adaptation of the life and times of Winston Churchill is precise, efficient, and powerful. He chooses a no holds barred approach that is unapologetic as Churchill himself. As closely as McCarten aligned his screenplay against what we know from history, he chose to invent one particularly inspirational scene in which the Prime Minister leaves his chauffeur and takes the London Underground (what we call a subway)–a mode of transportation that he remarks never using earlier in the film. It is this scene that paves the way for the bombastic, poignant “We Will Fight” speech that will nearly have you standing up in your seat during his ovation on screen. Such a brilliant move by McCarten to invent a scene that truly feels like it very much could have taken place. It’s a scene that also shows Churchill’s heart for the people he was trying his damndest to protect against the evil across the English Channel.

Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a must-see film! His direction of this biographical drama is an outstanding work of cinematic excellence. Few directors could have captured the power of these events and the determination of Churchill as Wright has done. The approach of Wright and McCarten may prove to be precisely what is needed for Oscar nominations. Highly recommend for anyone who is fascinated by history or more specifically the events that took place at the time of and leading up to Dunkirk. Darkest Hour also displays a remarkable adhesion to history while adding in elements that provide a much more comprehensive experience that work to inspire audiences.

“The Founder” movie review

thefounderOutstanding biopic that typifies what the American dream actually looks like–but that’s the scary part. Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Ray Kroc, the (self-proclaimed) “founder” of McDonald’s, is positively brilliant! Comparing his look and performance to the real Ray Kroc seen before the credits roll, there is no doubt that director John Lee Hancock (known for The Rookie and The Blind Side) made the right choice. The Founder takes us on a journey from Southern California to Illinois and beyond as we follow the course of events that radically revolutionized an entire industry and gave birth to one of the most recognized brands in the world as well as the very concept of modern franchising. What Henry Ford did for American motorcars, Kroc did for American “speeedee” service food. Ray Kroc realized the American dream by stopping at nothing until he built his empire, even if it meant stealing from a business and breaking up a marriage–all within the confines of the law. We’ve all heard about “the American dream;” well, The Founder depicts what it takes for that dream to come true. If you’re willing to be a cut-throat bully with few if any inhibitions, then you can build an empire and claim to be the founder of another’s company or even run a country.

This biopic drama tells the story of how Ray Kroc (Keaton), a 55 year-old milkshake machine salesman from Illinois, met Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald in San Bernardino, CA during a sales transaction that would start something big. Who would’ve guessed that a man who was the definitive door-to-door salesman would see great potential in a small-town burger joint. Recognizing the great potential for a successful franchise, Kroc entered into a business proposition that would change the quick service food industry forever and essentially perfect the business practice of franchising. Over a relatively short amount of time, Kroc maneuvered himself into a position of power and dominance over the brothers, and eventually took the very company they founded away and never looked back. Kroc stopped at nothing when appropriating the intellectual property of the McDonald brothers to build a vast empire that would find its way into thousands of towns and become just an American an icon as the flag, churches, or the eagle.

Although the film is presently foundering in box offices, it is definitely worth a watch because of depicting the story of one man’s American dream that would essentially steal the laurels from baseball and apple pie to become a larger than life symbol of America recognized throughout the world. It’s unfortunate that this film is not garnering more attention because the writing, directing, and acting are absolutely brilliant. Full of irony and ambiguity, The Founder could have easily been called or at least subtitled Birth of a Salesman. While watching the movie, I could not help but compare the plot of this film with the iconic play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Both tell stories of salesman but the end result is vastly different. Both Willy Loman and Ray Kroc were dedicated to their respective craft of salesmanship; however, Kroc took the practice of sales and pitches to the next level–in fact he created his own game in which only he could win. Where else have we seen a bully play by his own rules and build an empire into a brand in and of itself? I’ll allow you to draw that conclusion. Further irony can be seen in Ray Kroc’s surname. His sheer cunning, predatory ways of conducting business can easily be likened to the crocodile itself. Despite receiving credit for inventing the fast food assembly line, much like Ford did for American car manufacturers, the “speedee” service was invented by Dick and Mac McDonald of San Bernardino. Thankfully, the brothers are receiving the credit that they deserve–albeit posthumously.

It’s difficult not to root for the villain in this film. Even though you tell yourself that he was a monster and a complete leach to the McDonald brothers, his first wife, and other friends, you may still find yourself in his corner because of McDonald’s being the American icon that it is. The cognitive dissonance that many will experience during diegesis of this film is fascinating in and of itself. Early on, you will find yourself rooting for Ray Kroc because he comes off as an underdog. He is able to provide decently for him and his wife, but it is evident that his business is in the process of collapsing. Even after striking the proverbial deal with the McDonald brothers, you may still root for him because the brothers make it difficult for Kroc to actually engage in successful franchising. The tide begins to subtly shift when the chain begins to take off. When the brothers deny Kroc a request to renegotiate the terms of the contract in order to boost capital and revenue, Kroc hires a new business partner who provides the knowhow to shift the focus from running a burger chain to being a real estate mogul. That shift from only burgers to real estate is what truly built McDonald’s Corporation into the giant that it is today. Interestingly, when confronted by the brothers on a break in the contract, Kroc points out that they could take him to court and probably win, but by the time he would drag them through hearing after hearing, and trial after trial, the brothers would be completely bankrupt. Much like the milkshake substitute that boosted revenue and mitigated refrigeration costs, but contained no milk, a handshake deal with Kroc is just as fake.

The set designs and costumes in The Founder are impressive and so incredibly well executed that audiences will be transported from 2017 to 1950s America. From the cars to the architecture to the print advertising and marketing, this movie boasts an authenticity that is on par with larger budget period films. The supporting players in the film are equally captivating too. Parks and Rec‘s Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are absolutely perfect as the McDonald brothers, and I cannot think of two better actors to bring these “hidden figures” of fast foot history to life. It’s unfortunate that Laura Dern is underutilized as Ethel, Kroc’s first wife, because she is a dynamic actress capable of adding significantly to a film. Although not featured on screen a lot, Patrick Wilson plays Rollie Smith, an early investor, but his acting excellence is still showcased well. Finally, Linda Gardellini is captivating as the future Mrs. Ray Kroc–problem is, that she is married to Rollie Smith at the time they meet. It’s her suggestion to switch from real ice cream and milk to instant milkshake powder that sets the final dominos in motion to topple the McDonald brothers. In continued irony, the story of McDonald’s contains people who are excited about fake food product. But those were the times the characters lived in. The chemistry between the characters helps to reinforce the authenticity of this biographical motion picture.

Ray and Joan Kroc are well known philanthropists–in their later years. In fact, Joan Kroc left most of her vast fortune to many charities. The most well-known recipient of the inheritance is NPR. Even today, if you listen to the programming, you will hear the Estate of Joan Kroc mentioned as a supporter of the public radio organization. Whether you appreciate NPR or not, one cannot help but think that all the philanthropy of the Kroc (namely Joan) is a result of easing the conscience since the Kroc fortune can be likened to blood money. It’s entirely plausible that much like Marion Crane figuratively cleanses her spirit in the infamous Psycho shower after having stolen the money from her employer, Joan may have very well given her fortune away in an effort to ease her conscience and do good with the figuratively ill-gotten money.

Such an incredibly fascinating movie! If you enjoy historical dramas about American icons, then you will definitely enjoy The Founder. It may prompt you to grab a McDonald’s burger and fries after the movie or perhaps never go there again after learning the company’s history. Whatever the case, it cannot be denied that the story of McDonald’s is incredibly interesting and IS the product of persistence and business ingenuity. If there is anything inspirational to take away from this film, it is the power of that persistence and looking for potential in the most unlikely of places.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead