The story of milkshake salesman Ray Kroc franchising the small but thriving McDonald’s burger stand, and essentially stealing it away from the McDonald brothers is not a new one. The humble beginnings of one of the world’s largest and recognizable food corporations in the world has been fairly well documented (just put on CNBC once in awhile), but The Founder attempts, and succeeds, in providing some humanity to the story.
In the early 1950’s, Ray Kroc, a salesman who had tried his hand at numerous business endeavors, was experiencing a bit of a dry spell. His multi-milkshake machines were not selling well, and things looked bleak until he received an order for six machines from a small burger joint in San Bernardino, California called McDonalds. After visiting the restaurant, Kroc was blown away by the revolutionary “Speedy System” that brothers Dick and Mac McDonald had implemented, and he immediately wanted a part of the business. He convinced the brothers to let him franchise, which led to an explosion of McDonald’s around the country. What followed was a power struggle between the McDonald brothers and Kroc, one that Kroc would ultimately win.
While the story of the origins of McDonald’s is interesting in itself, this movie belongs to Keaton. Ray Kroc has been portrayed as a bit of a villain in the history books, but Robert D. Siegel‘s screenplay, and Michael Keaton’s performance, brings a level of humanity to Kroc that has you rooting for him for much of the film. Kroc is portrayed as a man who just wants to succeed, and has the vision to do so. His shrewdness as a businessman is not gone unexplored, however, though I’d venture to guess that it is downplayed a bit here. Keaton is dynamic, and his performance ranks amongst his best work, including his Academy Award nominated performance in Birdman.
What I found interesting about The Founder is that this while the film leans heavy on Kroc’s story, it is much of a story of the McDonald brothers as it is Kroc’s. John Caroll Lynch and Nick Offerman both deliver wonderful performances as the brothers, particularly Offerman, who’s Dick McDonald saw the writing on the wall from the beginning, but still reluctantly agrees to go into business with Kroc. If I have one complaint about the film it’s that the lives of the McDonald brothers are not explored enough. While the film successfully paints Kroc with a hue of sympathy, and creates a man rising to the top narrative, the McDonald brothers story is fairly tragic. The effect that Kroc’s business dealings had on his personal life in front and center, but we see nothing of how it affected the Dick and Mac. The Founder is just short of two hours long, but an extra ten minutes of running time would have been gladly welcomed to explore the personal lives of the brothers a bit.
The Founder effectively breathes life into one of the most interesting business stories in modern American history. I would have liked to have seen a bit more balance in the storytelling, and aspects of Kroc’s life are glossed over, but if anything, it has inspired me to research the story further, which I suppose speaks well of a biopic.