The Founder definitely isn’t your typical inspiring true story that leaves you eager to get out there, be the best you that you can be and achieve your dreams, but you can reach that mind frame after watching it – it just takes some thought, and that’s part of what makes The Founder an especially unique and memorable watch.
The movie covers the true story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the man now widely known as the founder of the McDonald’s Corporation. However, that doesn’t make him the founder of McDonald’s. That title belongs to the guys who really started it all – brothers Mac and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). They’re the ones who developed a system to deliver tasty food fast, but when they agree to let Ray attempt to franchise the operation, they essentially put him on a path to steal the company out from under them.
It’s a fascinating story on multiple levels. Whether you visit your local McDonald’s on the regular, are interested in learning about the rise of the fast food giant, or want to get a look at someone’s personal road to success, The Founder’s got a lot to offer, both as a thoughtful character study and as a high-energy, engaging, and very entertaining movie.
No surprise here – Keaton is incredibly captivating as Ray Kroc. He starts the film as a floundering traveling salesman. Even though you know he’s never going to hit it big peddling milk shake mixers, his determination and persistence are infectious, and that helps seamlessly pave the way to his franchise pitch at McDonald’s. He’s still the Ray Kroc we saw trying to strike a deal in scenes prior, but there’s an extra dose of conviction this time around, suggesting that it really could be something special, not just because you already know that McDonald’s eventually becomes one of the world’s largest food companies, but rather because you’re completely in the moment courtesy of Keaton’s captivating performance paired with director John Lee Hancock’s bold visuals and swift pacing.
But it’s not as simple as meeting and then rooting for your protagonist. There are two other key players in the mix, Mac and Dick McDonald, and they just so happen to be two of the warmest, most kind hearted, genuine guys around, and Offerman and Lynch do a fantastic job highlighting that. They’ve got only the best intentions and deeply believe in their product. It’s not about expanding and making money, it’s about honoring the McDonald’s brand they worked tirelessly to develop and bringing their costumers the best possible service. So the question then becomes, do you rock the boat and seize the potential of this brilliant operation? Or do you let that opportunity pass you by and just keep cruising along as is? The Founder is Keaton’s show, but writer Robert D. Siegel structures the narrative in a way that keeps that conundrum in the forefront. Even when Offerman and Lynch aren’t on screen, you never forget what McDonald’s was like in its original form and what it means to them. With every selfish, albeit passionate business-savvy decision Ray makes, you’re inclined to consider, how will Mac and Dick respond? And that turns The Founder into an especially dynamic and engaging movie.
The only element that might somewhat sour the experience is that, as we all well know, The Founder ends with the villain winning. Ray Kroc is far from pure evil and actually does exhibit some good intentions through much of the movie by working hard, attempting to uphold Mac and Dick’s standards, helping young couples start franchises, etc., but his obsession with success clouds his judgement as McDonald’s grows, and his decisions and actions become more and more manipulative and abhorrent. Initially, his victory left me feeling hollow, dejected and wondering if this story is better suited for the documentary format. Give the movie a moment’s thought though and it becomes abundantly clear that this isn’t just a retelling of how McDonald’s came to be the company it is today. It’s also a story that challenges you to weigh two fundamental pillars of any profession – ethics and financial success.
Would you take the high road if the chance to create a multibillion dollar empire was at your fingertips? If you seize that opportunity but it’s at someone else’s expense, will it come back to haunt you? Some think big and some don’t. There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with either, but there certainly can be depending on how you go about it. There’s sit back, relax and watch Michael Keaton wreak havoc as Ray Kroc fun to be had with The Founder, but there’s also a fascinating and deeply troubling character journey taking place that’ll be tough to shake.
The Founder starts its limited release today.