Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is feeling slightly over-the-hill in his job selling milkshake machine to drive-in restaurants. Then he suddenly gets an order for six mixers – far more than he thinks any restaurant could possibly need. However, the order is correct, so Ray decides to visit this place out in San Bernadino California, where he discovers the McDonald’s hamburger stand.
The McDonald brother, Dick and Mac (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) have completely reinvented the concept of the diner-type restaurant. From getting people to come to the window to order and serving them food in waxed paper, to a carefully designed system to be able to complete an order in seconds, Ray has never seen anything like it.
He talks the brothers into letting him be in charge of franchising their operation, even though they’re very unsure about it, due to their exacting standards and difficult experiences when they’ve tried open other restaurants before. Ray is certain it can be big though and so promises the brothers control of what happens inside the restaurants, and he’ll take care of the rest – for a small cut, of course.
Despite his success setting up more McDonalds across the country, Ray finds himself constrained both by his own finances and the McDonald brothers’ insistence that the franchisees don’t cut corners. That’s when Ray’s ruthless streak comes out, as well as his tendency to want to take credit for things that had little to do with him, when someone suggests to him a way he can control an empire.
The career resurrection of Michael Keaton continues, who gives a brilliant performance as a man who’s part good old boy and part reptilian business monster. It allows the movie to unpack a story of the American Dream, but one that suggests that for one man to get their dream they may need to crush someone else’s in a rather unpleasant manner, and that what Americans might like to think of as their values can be pushed aside by the other American obsession – money.
It’s lucky that Keaton is so good, as he holds the viewers’ attention so that it’s less obvious that the movie creaks in some other respects. In fact, there are moments when you can’t help but wonder if its softened what it really wanted to do, just in case the McDonald’s lawyers took exception. As a result, it’s perhaps not as biting or engrossing as it might have been, but there’s still more than enough here to keep the viewer hooked.
As well as Keaton, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are good as the McDonald brothers, with the movie really wanting to give them their credit for the system they created. Although it’s become quite famous that Ray Kroc liked to ignore their contribution and pretend the brothers didn’t exist, The Founder really wants to set the record straight and show that virtually every key aspect of modern fast food – such as having a precisely designed, almost factory-like, food preparation production line – came from them.
It makes for an enjoyable movie, although you may wish it had dug a bit deeper, both into exactly who Kroc was, and what the rise of the golden arched fast food giant has to say about both what happened back then and how it resonates in the world today.
Overall Verdict: Michael Keaton is brilliant as a man who may not have any ideas of his own, but knows how to run with others’ dreams, even if that involves crushing those around him.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac