See how everyone’s secret favorite restaurant became a national chain.
Some spoilers follow. If you don’t know the history you might want to turn back.
In all honesty, I thought The Founder was a documentary when I first saw the movie poster. Instead, we have an interesting docudrama starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the man who took McDonald’s from a stand-alone family joint to the international mega-corporation it is today.
Kroc is an interesting individual who is easy to hate. He starts out as a down-on-his-luck travelling salesman who desperately needs to catch a break. We first meet him as he is selling shake machines, and a new type of restaurant buys several, which prompts Kroc to go and see what this store is all about. Upon arriving he meets the McDonald brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) who have created the idea of serving food quickly. Kroc is enamored with their restaurant, and begs them to let him franchise them.
The brothers do sign off on Kroc expanding their business, and the tensions rise immediately. The original restaurant came to pass through decades of experimentation, hard work, and dedication. Kroc creates a brand and expands rapidly. The cutthroat business practices that Kroc deploys goes against what the brothers stood for, and here is where the tension of the film comes into play.
For the brothers, the restaurant was meant to be a livelihood, but also a project of passion. There is a love for their product and their community—something that Kroc seems incapable of understanding. Kroc’s viciousness, backstabbing, and cruelty towards his wife, friends, and partners makes him easy to hate. However, the film is not simply an exercise in bashing him. We do see that Kroc gives franchises to a lot of folks who needed this opportunity, and through his efforts he does create one of the (if not the) largest food corporations in the world.
How people will feel watching this movie is going to change depending on how much they can sympathize with ugly business practices. The brothers are simply outmatched in this realm—all they cared about was getting good food to people as quickly as possible. The ideas of profits, corner cutting, and other common practices simply didn’t matter to them. It is easy to see this film as nothing more than a story of two folks getting railed by a greedy dick, and to an extant that is what the film is about. However, we can also see the age-old ideal of power and wealth corrupting.
Kroc doesn’t seem like a bad guy at the beginning. He might be desperate, and is certainly greedy, but he isn’t cruel. The stark negative traits of his personality develop as his wealth increases. What makes this all the more tragic is we see Kroc being the subject of ridicule by the elite in his own community before he is successful. Instead of changing the system, he simply becomes a part of it.
Keaton is fantastic in this role, and I am glad that he is back on the mainstream of films. His ability to play a variety of characters makes him a fantastic draw to the screen, and here we can see him at his most devious. Offerman and Lynch are likewise fantastic in their roles, and powerfully sympathetic. There isn’t a dud performance in this film, and that is becoming an increasingly impressive accomplishment.
The technical aspects are also fine. There isn’t a lot of camera trickery to be had, but the director knew to not interfere with the scenes and instead lets the dialogue and movement come naturally. I honestly didn’t notice the soundtrack, which in my book is a major plus.
Where the limits of the film come in is whether or not one sees this as a story worth telling. It was interesting, and it is sad that the original McDonald brothers are more or less forgotten, but for me there wasn’t a lot to take away once the credits rolled. Greed is dangerous and destructive, despite some beneficial side effects along the way. Good folks often lose, and the greedy win. These lessons aren’t new, and I don’t think they are being forgotten. It is a little unfair to demand a life-changing take away from a biopic, but I felt that there was a strong statement trying to be said, and it didn’t come through for me.
Overall, this is an interesting look at a major corporation. We see how people change, and what happens when money and influence overtake more basic needs. What really drives the film up a notch is the fantastic performances. This one is certainly worth a watch. 8/10