The Founder tells story of tenacious businessman
One of the largest industries in the country is fast food, with McDonald’s being the all-time leader. In The Founder, director John Lee Hancock aims to tell the story of how a rogue and tenacious businessman inadvertently gave birth to a massive industry. The movie focuses primarily on Ray Kroc, portrayed brilliantly by Michael Keaton, a milkshake mixer salesman who craves more out of his average life. After learning that a small but popular hamburger stand in California was ordering high quantities of his mixers, Kroc discovered a restaurant that revolutionized a new assembly line method of producing fries, hamburgers and milkshakes in seconds. He convinces the stand’s owners, brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald, played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, to franchise their business and expand nationwide.
However, what starts out as a tempting road to financial success gradually turns sour, as tensions begin to quickly build between both parties when Kroc’s influence starts to eclipse that of the McDonald brothers. The movie tells an old-fashioned sweet-and-sour story of good U.S. capitalism versus bad and how Kroc built his fortune and empire by steamrolling the McDonald’s brothers before going in for the corporate kill. The title itself could also be taken as a sort of double entendre. While Kroc proudly calls himself “The Founder of McDonald’s,” the movie makes the argument that he is a founder in the sense that he literally found the brothers’ hamburger stand and proceeded to wrestle away control from them during expansion.
In this regard, the movie seemingly borrows elements of tone from similar cutthroat business movies like There Will Be Blood and The Social Network. With that said, there seems to be an element of restraint on Hancock’s part. While the movie wants to paint Kroc in a somewhat negative light, he never goes all the way on this approach, supposedly to avoid the ire of the real McDonald’s corporation. A similar flaw was present in Hancock’s previous biopic Saving Mr. Banks, which toned down the much-publicized communication problems between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers during the filming of Mary Poppins.
To his credit, Hancock does not take as much creative liberties with Kroc’s story as he did with his previous film. While Keaton’s performance served as the nucleus for the whole movie, Offerman and Lynch’s devastating portrayals of the McDonald’s brothers is without a doubt the strongest part of the film. Every stop on their road from riches to rags is here and accounted for, from their misguided sense of trust in Kroc to letting him expand McDonald’s into other states, to their rejection of profit-making ideas that they feared would turn their restaurant into a purveyor of unfrozen beef patties and powdered shakes.
Their idealistic, yet naive and trepidatious views of how to run a restaurant ultimately led them to being reduced from the true founders to mere footnotes in McDonald’s history.