Under the Radar: February 2017

February 2017 was the month in which cinema audiences flocked to see Lego Batman, Split and the raunchy Fifty Shades Darker. However, amongst the blockbusters and superhero movies, there’s always a few gems hidden in plain sight that you may have missed for one reason or another. This column is dedicated to selecting and highlighting one film that perhaps slipped under your radar this month, as well as giving a further recommendation on a similar film you may also enjoy.

The Founder

Have you ever wondered where the name McDonald’s came from and how the fast-food chain spread from tiny, humble beginnings into the multi-national food industry juggernaut it is today? The Founder is the true story of how Ray Kroc took the concept of the McDonald’s brothers’ restaurant of efficiency and turned it into a franchise. Expertly told through stand out performances from Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, the film is a great portrayal of a real-life anti-hero and the cut-throat nature of the American Dream.

John Lee Hancock’s direction is a great balance of comedy and drama, similar to that of his previous film Saving Mr Banks. At times the film is dark and at other times it’s playful and funny. This is especially conveyed through Offerman’s deadpan delivery when compared to Keaton’s energy. The film, similar to its tone, is split in two halves. The first half is the funnier and humble half where we see Kroc as a sympathetic character who just wants to make something of himself. Incidentally, the editing of the first half and the use of bright colours almost makes the film appear as an advert for the company. At times it comes off as cliché but that may be intentional. The idea of McDonald’s is romanticised and idealised into something revolutionary; there are even comparisons made to Henry Ford.

However, it’s the second half of The Founder which elevates the film from a traditional biopic into a more complex and perverse story. The first half meanders slightly and contains some scenes which deliver exposition so blatantly they may as well have looked into the camera and told you directly. The second half of the film is more nuanced and told in a way that feels more natural. All the qualities we see in Ray Kroc that make him sympathetic in the first half are cleverly re-deployed to build his repulsiveness in the second. As the business grows, the film asks the audience to what extent the company has lost its authenticity.  It is through its nuanced exploration of the American Dream that The Founder is surely elevated from just another light-hearted biopic.

This film may have slipped under your radar in February but it is well worth the watch. It may not have you thinking for days on end. However, it is an interesting story which may linger at the back of your mind the next time you munch through a Big Mac.

The Intouchables (2011)

From American big business to French romance, but not of the sort you might be thinking. For anyone who struggles to bring themselves to watch films made in a foreign language (and who could blame you with the sheer extent of what’s on offer in English every year), and for fans of true stories which will touch your heart in a meaningful way, I would implore you to at least try The Intouchables.

Centred on the real-life relationship (dare I say ‘bromance’) between a physically disabled millionaire injured in a paragliding accident and his newly hired low-life carer, The Intouchables is a film littered with dualities which teaches us valuable lessons without ever coming across as preachy or arrogant. How not to treat the disabled; an insight into the life of the poor and the rich; learning from your mistakes; this touching French classic, like The Founder, is a film with a powerful message which manages to remain a character-driven masterpiece nonetheless.

It’s a film told through flashbacks, which takes a while to get going, perhaps purposefully when contrasting the at times uncomfortable relationship between the film’s polar-opposite protagonists: Driss, the lethargic ex-criminal and Phillipe, the cultured but lonely millionaire. However, directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano waste no time in driving the film towards where it truly excels: its heart-breaking backstory and subplot; and not just for Francois Cluzet’s Phillipe, the obvious point of tragedy for the film. The starkly different yet similar issues faced by Phillipe and Driss greatly ground the film whilst never leaving the viewer a moment to pause and recover from its subtle emotional punches.

On top of some truly beautiful friendship-forging moments and an ending which is as poetic as it is heart-breaking, The Intouchables is a must see for anybody with an appreciation for good storytelling. To anyone hesitant about watching a French film, don’t be. This is a film very different from the usual overly-loud Hollywood biopic, but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be as little known among English-speaking audiences as it is.

Dan Lyons & Ben Mallett

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