Split • The Founder
January 26, 2017
Split (* ½) PG-13
At what point do you simply give up on a once promising filmmaker who seems intent on not ever treading new ground but insisting instead on rehashing old ideas to the point of near self parody? Those were the questions that ran through my head immediately following the press screening for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest excuse for a thriller entitled Split the other night.
The trailers for the film looked promising and after a somewhat intriguing return to form for the filmmaker with the 2015 film The Visit, I was willing to take a chance once again. Needless to say, after the painful experience of witnessing the debacle that is Split, it’s going to take a lot for me to summon up the fortitude to sit through another film attached to Mr. Shyamalan. I’m sure audiences will line up and that early box office returns will prove promising but once the word gets out Split should be an apt title for the long-term prospects of this film.
The premise of Split is that a clearly disturbed man, ably embodied by the talented actor James McAvoy, houses 23 distinct personalities, with a 24th about to break loose at any given moment.
James McAvoy in Split
The twist—a prerequisite for any film bearing the distinction of being directed/written by M. Night Shyamalan—revolves around the who/what that 24th personality might actually be. In the interim, McAvoy’s character kidnaps a couple of teenage girls and makes seemingly daily visits to a psychiatrist played by veteran actress Betty Buckley (the gym teacher in the original Carrie), whose welcome presence is one of the better things in the film. Each visit seems to reveal a different personality while the girls continually try to escape in the B plot of the film.
Admittedly, this is interesting at first but after eighty odd minutes of absolutely nothing happening but McAvoy’s scenery chewing—he not only chews scenery but also eats the carpet, the drapes and anything else in the room—I was ready to scream, ‘Enough already.’
If all of this preamble and unnecessary exposition actually led to a satisfactory climax that would be one thing but it doesn’t. Instead it leads to a revelation that’s never really made clear and then a stupefying moment at the end of the film that calls back to one of Shyamlan’s earlier works.
My advice for Mr. Shyamalan, not that he’s asking, would be to just go on and make a sequel to that earlier film and forget about even attempting anything original since this is what he seems to be hell bent on doing anyway. If Split is any indication of what he’s got up his sleeve he’s better off basking in the glory of the days when he actually had something of note to say.
The Founder (***) PG-13
If you’re looking for a feel-good take on the origins of hamburger mega-chain McDonalds, I have news for you. The Founder, a dramatization of those events, isn’t that kind of film. It is certainly a tale of the can-do American spirit, reminding us of the vast opportunities those are afforded who happen to dwell in the land of the free. Beneath the film’s somewhat bubbly exterior, however, it’s also a portrait of capitalism at work, but not always in the best sense, in that it serves to illustrate how humanity can be lost in the pursuit of success. This is the kind of subject that could have easily been sanitized but, refreshingly, writer Robert Siegel (The Wrestler) and director John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks) choose not to go that route. It goes a long way in serving the film’s best interests.
The film is anchored by Michael Keaton’s lead performance as Ray Kroc, the man who mapped out the route to making McDonalds an internationally recognized brand.
Michael Keaton in The Founder
For years after his appearance in Tim Burton’s Batman films, Keaton languished in the cinematic wilderness. His starring role in the Oscar winning film Birdman several years back has given the actor something of a comeback. It’s good to see him being offered roles like the one here. He ably embodies the McDonalds franchise king and easily makes the transition from energetic and optimistic entrepreneur to the back stabbing/cold hearted capitalist that the role requires.
As for the structure of the film, it’s pretty much a straightforward recanting of the tale. Kroc is a failed salesman in his early fifties who has never really tasted the success that he’s always dreamed about. Enter the McDonald brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch), whom Kroc chances to meet on a trek to California. Kroc is enchanted by the fast food assembly line that the siblings have put together in service of their tremendously successful hamburger stand. The brothers reluctantly entrust Kroc with franchising their business, a decision that eventually costs them personally and professionally. At first Kroc appears to have the McDonalds’ best business interests at heart. Later, after Kroc implements cost cutting measures such as buying up the land the franchises are built upon and utilizing powdered milkshakes at their restaurants in place of real ice cream, it becomes clear that Kroc will stop at nothing in his quest for control of the business. Later, he even goes as far as to steal one his franchisee’s wives in the midst of everything else swirling around him.
The Founder does have a bit of a formulaic structure from time to time but viewers will probably still find it quite revealing in its portrait of the machinations that lead to the implementation of our current fast food culture. Like most biopics it obviously takes dramatic license with the facts, but still manages to be a mostly compelling portrait of a driven man.
Split is playing in Hickory; The Founder, per Carmike’s site, is not yet playing in Hickory.
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