THE FOUNDER EXPLORES THE CUTTHROAT NATURE OF CAPITALISM AND THE AMERICAN DREAM IN COMPELLING FASHION
The most fascinating stories are often the ones seldom told. Into this category fits The Founder whose story is not only widely unknown but immensely captivating. It’s the tale of that ubiquitous global fast food giant McDonald’s and it’s ever famous golden arches, but more so it’s the human tale of ingenuity, persistence and ultimate greed.
Based on real life events The Founder may promote one man in its name but this film, indeed the history of McDonald’s, is all about three men. It just so happened that one of them swindled the other two and then went laughing all the way to the bank, literally.
In 1954 travelling salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) zigzagged across the United States attempting to sell various items with varying degrees of success, but it wasn’t until he sold eight milkshake makers to a pair of entrepreneurial brothers in California that he would seal his fate forever. Richard and Maurice McDonald had revolutionized the burger market with their exceptionally fast service, quality food at a cheap price (a hamburger, fries and a Coke sold for 35 cents!) and ingenious vision into cost reduction. To say that the original McDonald’s restaurant was a miracle would be an understatement, and with the savvy and determined Kroc now privy to their enterprise it wouldn’t be long before the local wonder the brothers created would become a global phenomenon; although not one for the brothers themselves.
Michael Keaton is a true delight who brings forward Kroc’s complex personality in the most intriguing way. He’s charming and suave, but also stubborn, irascible and neglectful of his wife. It’s another great performance from Keaton who has had a terrific career resurgence in the last few years. As the McDonald’s franchise mastermind he shines and this should hopefully garner him another Oscar nomination. While it is his central role that drives much of the film (and provides most of the amusement), the portrayal of the increasingly powerless McDonald’s brothers also leaves an impression.
Richard and Maurice (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) were a pair of hardworking visionaries who didn’t ask for fame or fortune. Their one goal was to obey and promote a strict adherence to the integrity of their product and the atmosphere it created. Ironically while undoubtedly visionary, they were also traditionalist. Richard particularly resisted much of Kroc’s new ideas for expansion and reducing escalating costs, while holding a sometimes righteous outlook on the ‘sanctity’ of the McDonald’s goods.
As the movie begins it is the McDonald’s who are up high and with a touch of boastfulness, while Kroc is down low and increasingly desperate. By its end however the tables have turned, Kroc has become the boastful and arrogant ‘founder’ of the chain while the siblings lose almost everything except their name across the country; a name they would eventually not even own anymore. It’s a type of cruel poetic justice that in the end leaves you feeling very sorry for the two brothers.
Through its screenplay by Robert D. Siegel, the film masterfully takes these real life events and makes them not only compelling but really entertaining. While there’s plenty of business jargon thrown around this isn’t a movie solely about contracts, leases and franchising but of the ugliness of the American dream. In pursuing it Ray Kroc goes from a being a sympathetic character to a real corporate villain, while Richard and Maurice see their endeavor flourish but at the cost of it crumbling under their own feet. The American dream in this case resurrected one life but buried two others; but is that not the risk of entrepreneurship?
The Founder is a fascinating and entertaining film that has given a rare spotlight on the history of one of the most enduring symbols of modern Americana. We all know McDonald’s, but few of us will know of its intriguing history that may be more appetizing for some then the food on its menu. Ultimately however this story is more than just a look at how a small burger joint in San Bernardino, California ended up serving over 99 billion. It’s about the risks, the lows, and the joys that come with creating something new and knowing who to trust and when, and the three men who learned that the hard way.
DIRECTED BY JOHN LEE HANCOCK
SCREENPLAY BY ROBERT D SIEGEL
STARRING MICHAEL KEATON, NICK OFFERMAN AND JOHN CARROLL LYNCH