I am not sure anyone was clamoring for a movie about the creation of McDonalds, but whether we wanted one or not here it is. The good news is The Founder is much better than I thought, giving moviegoers something far more substantial than the fast-food giant at its center. Actually, it is ironic that it is opening the same day as Donald Trump’s is inaugurated as President because the movie, at its core, is a perfect window into a kind of Trumpian universe.
The story revolves around Ray Kroc, an American innovator who made billions exploiting the little guy and turning a quality hamburger joint into a mass-market cheap-food machine, while cutting the two people who created it right off at the knees. Michael Keaton, in another home-run performance, sprays Kroc with naked ambition, business smarts, and a man with little regard for the human cost of it all.
In The Founder, an ironic name since Kroc was really only the “founder” of the franchise and not the original product, we meet Kroc as a flailing 50ish salesman struggling Willy Loman-style to make ends meet. When he is called to sell soda fountain equipment to the McDonald brothers, who own a popular hamburger restaurant in San Bernardino, he immediately sees the possibilities of something that could be taken far beyond its one Southern California location and turned into a lucrative syndicate of fast-food joints. He convinces the brothers, Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman), to sign a deal where he can open a few franchises. They believe they are controlling things with strict food policies in line with their signature restaurant, but things are going on behind their backs as Kroc, cutting corners, sees the much bigger picture.
You certainly have to hand it to Kroc for his vision and business acumen; he saw something no one else did and the rest is history. But the way he got there, at least according to this film from director John Lee Hancock and writer Robert Siegel, has him devilishly taking no prisoners in creating an empire out of something that wasn’t his to begin with. As I say in my video review above, their treatment of this subject matter is darkly entertaining, led by the exceptional Keaton who was made to play this role, investing a certain charm mixed with devious methods to attain his goal of worldwide hamburger domination. Lynch and Offerman are a hoot as the clueless and increasingly frustrated McDonalds. Laura Dern is Ethel, the long-suffering first wife of Kroc who is virtually tossed aside as he finally hits the mother lode. Linda Cardellini is Joan, the woman who moves in on the action and becomes his second wife, while Patrick Wilson is in for a few scenes as her first husband. Production values are exceptional.
Don Handfield, Jeremy Renner and Aaron Ryder are producers. The Weinstein Company releases the movie Friday, following its one-week Oscar qualifying run in December.
Do you plan to see The Founder? Let us know what you think.