Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling salesman trying to make ends meet. He’s been dreaming of one big score that will turn his life around, but so far has had one failed venture after another. It looks like he’ll be traveling the roads getting doors slammed in his face forever, until one fateful day he drives up to a new innovative small eatery called McDonalds.
Kroc meets the McDonalds brothers Dick and Mac (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). He learns of their new groundbreaking ‘fast food’ model and sees endless potential with it. He partners up with the brothers and sets out to franchise their little restaurant.
Thanks to his persistence, Kroc manages to have the brothers’ golden arches pop up all over the map and the concept is a huge success. But Kroc wants more. He will soon turn on the brothers, get cut-throat and ruthless, buy them out and become the sole Founder of one of the biggest businesses in history.
The Founder is entertaining and will probably be an education of the history of McDonalds for most people. I don’t think the general public are aware of the circumstances of its birth or how essentially Kroc wrestled away the idea from the two brothers and made himself the face of this global franchise.
Keaton is great. He is such a likable actor and watching him early on as the down-on-his-luck Kroc it’s hard not to root for him. You get behind the guy. It’s so great when he lets out a speech about making McDonalds the American church. This guy is a real salesman!
You can see he’s hard working, he’s tenacious with trying to get things done and it’s satisfying when his vision starts to become a reality.
A huge switch is flipped when greed starts to fill in his eyes and you want to distance yourself from him. It’s as if any kind of ethics are non-existent within him. It’s hard to justify much of what he does to the brothers and even worse is the total lack of remorse he has for his actions. There’s also an added arrogance that is quite depressing to witness. Keaton can handle both the underdog and callous parts of the character really well.
Offerman and Lynch are also very good as the McDonalds brothers who really come off as a genuine and kind pair. They also have a dream, worked extremely hard at it, but unlike Kroc have a ceiling that once hit is enough for them.
There is a great scene of them explaining how they designed the layout of the cooking behind the counter. They draw up a huge map on a tennis court, have their staff rehearse the cooking process until it turns into a well-timed ballet. It’s a nice, joyous scene.
I also enjoyed the contrast shown between the slow old drive-in restaurants and the speedy service of what the brothers create. It’s an amusing moment when Kroc orders from a McDonalds window for the first time, is handed a bag with burger almost immediately and is completely confused as to what just happened.
It’s made clear these two brothers put in a lot of time into their business and have a passion for what it represents and it becomes really heartbreaking to see them slowly have it stolen from them. Scene after scene shows more dissatisfaction from Kroc, his growing frustration with what he views as the brothers’ limited vision and finally the discovery of a way to make it all his own.
There’s a subplot with Kroc’s wife, which feels a bit clichéd – it’s the usual neglecting his home life for his business. So, there’s domestic problems that arise between Kroc and his wife played by Laura Dern. I understand the point of it – Kroc is solely focused on his new McDonalds plan and everything else, including his wife, falls to the side, but that whole storyline is done in a very routine way.
I suppose all that opens the door to Kroc meeting his second wife, played by Linda Cardellini, which works much better. She’s involved in the business side of his life and helps him make an added decision that will drive a wedge further between him and the brothers.
Director John Lee Hancock tells the story in rather a non-flashy, but effective way. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the film. It’s a straight-forward narrative and there’s little surprise to it, but it does its job, does it well and kept me interested the whole time.
One big missed opportunity I think the movie does make is with the portrayal of Kroc. He’s portrayed as this darkened power-hungry entrepreneur and there’s really not another shade to him once that hits. They could have made things a little less one-sided.
It might have been more interesting to give Kroc some kind of redeeming qualities. I’m sure he had his own version of the story and didn’t view himself as a straight-up villain. Perhaps have him be conflicted with some of the business decisions he makes. He struggles with his morals as he decides to steal the business and name from these two decent brothers.
That would have made a more balanced story and allowed the viewer to make more of a judgement call. But Kroc doesn’t hesitate in any way with his betrayal and seems ecstatic he managed to swindle the two.
Personally, I think it would be hard to see Kroc as anything but a backstabbing snake and having all your sympathy towards the McDonalds brothers with how the movie interprets this story as it is.
In the end, I did enjoy this. Oddly enough, the film trailer is exactly what you’re going to get. That happens often nowadays with trailers, but it is particularly accurate in regards to The Founder. The tone, the story, the performances. So, if the trailer looks appealing to you I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
It will also probably make you consider what that burger was built on next time you walk into a McDonalds.