The Founder is the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the man who discovered the potential of a small hamburger joint in San Bernardino, California. It is the origin story of McDonalds. Having mild to moderate success as a salesman for various goods, Kroc finds himself both amused and intrigued when he receives an order for five multi-mixing milkshake machines. Perplexed at how one restaurant could ever such a need, he drives to the first ever McDonalds run by a pair of brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch).
Impressed by the “speedy system,” the intricate dance McDonalds workers engage in to deliver hot hamburgers in roughly thirty seconds, Kroc convinces the brothers to make him their head of franchising. Kroc has a vision for McDonalds restaurants dotting the landscape across the nation. His drive to succeed makes Kroc willing to do anything to see his dream realized, even if that means biting the hands that once fed him.
What works in The Founder is the historical narrative and Keaton’s performance. As Kroc, Keaton blends charisma, persistence, shrewdness, and a bit more than dash of deception, effortlessly. His empire-building begins with ambition and what appears to be an earnest desire to create. In a sympathy for the devil turn, it is only when Kroc feels stifled and shackled (justifiably or not), that he becomes the aggressor, turning from reactive to proactive. The result is that Kroc comes off as a contextual villain—a by-product of philosophy mixed with circumstance—which is the most fascinating kind because their relatability.
If one has ever wondered how McDonalds rose to prominence, The Founder answers nearly all related questions with efficiency. For those who haven’t heard the tale of how two brothers realized the populations’ need for truly “fast food,” and how they met that challenge, The Founder is likely to amaze you with their ingenuity. But it is really the expansion of McDonalds that The Founder focuses on, which while it could come off dry and stale like day-old fries, is instead an engaging history lesson of business and entrepreneurship.
While Keaton and the story are incredibly interesting, there is certainly a chance that ones’ personal beliefs could taint perception. The Founder engages in some glorification of McDonalds as being revolutionary. While this is true from a mechanical/process perspective, the restaurant’s chain existence and the overall positive contribution it has provided consumers is certainly up for debate. Furthermore, the likeability factor of the main character, may be too low for some audience members as some could argue that Kroc is insightful and determined, while others dismiss him as slimy and wretched. Neither would be wrong.
In the end, The Founder is a film that both educates and intrigues, given its message about what it means to chase and achieve the American dream. Propelled by another remarkable performance by Michael Keaton, The Founder is likely to satisfy most audiences.
Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company
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