Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
Since The Wolf of Wall Street a few years ago, there have been an abundance of films about chronicling the vicious, cut-throat pursuit of the American Dream by many different individuals. Last year, War Dogs proved to be the staple of what I call the "neo crime-drama" genre with its emphasis on violence, grit, and sardonic humor, but even before that, we had Spring Breakers and Pain & Gain to hold us over. With The Founder, however, it gets even more personal. This time, it goes after a staple of American culture and one of the biggest global brands in the world; a place I'm sure most of us have eaten at fairly recently.
Of course it's McDonald's and of course the man in question is Ray Kroc, the contemptible codger who weaseled his way into the lives of two yokel brothers in California, both of whom unknowingly helped pave the way for a breakthrough in restaurant service. Richard and Maurice McDonald tried and helmed several businesses before they finally got the "fast-food service" business down to a literal science. Discarding the ever-popular car-hop restaurant theme because of the abundance of overhead costs and the unsavory crowd that came with it, the brothers McDonald decided to pine for a quick, hot-and-ready business formula that served everything in disposable paper containers/bags that prompted people to eat and then go on their merry way.
The entire process is told in a fantastic, five-minute scene with Richard and Maurice played by the biting and empathetic duo of Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch respectively.
Kroc came into the lives of the McDonald brothers after they ordered one of his Prince Castle brand milkshake machine, which allowed restaurants and car-hops extreme automation when it comes to the process of making several milkshakes at a time. Upon being bewildered at their request for so many machines, Kroc arrived at the San Bernardino McDonald's location and became acquainted with the McDonald's business model and its unbelievable success (lines down the street). After badgering them to allow him to become a part of the business, Kroc franchised the restaurant and eventually became a real estate mogul, owning and profiting off of the land on which franchisees built the restaurants.
John Lee Hancock
Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch
20 January 2017
Steve's Grade: B+
The entire thing was scummy, cold-hearted, but unapologetically genius for Kroc, who was quickly approaching retirement age and having little to show for it. A failed salesman of numerous items, for which he is still constantly ridiculed as we see in the film, he saw an opportunity and a couple of unassuming brothers and worked to exploit the hell out of both. What McDonald's was - a small, centralized business that emphasized quality control and consistency - gradually descended into a massive brand that has minimized both, something Richard McDonald feared would happen if the chain expanded too quickly. Authentic milkshakes became powder-based and food became frozen instead of being made-to-order. Pull up to any McDonald's drive-thru window and it's as if you've hit the lottery if you get your order 100% correct.
Kroc is played by Michael Keaton, a master at bringing these contemptible yet troubled characters to life. Keaton plays a similar character that he played in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance); one who is far past him prime and needs a landmark opportunity in order to solidify his legacy. The actions and tactics of manipulation he so casually uses in his fifties might have sickened him when he was in his younger days, but he's too old and too short on time to really care.
Did I even mention Kroc's wife, Ethel, played by Laura Dern in such an empty, thankless role? Kroc is hardly ever home to begin with, and when he is, he's a miserable cad in front of his wife to the point where every interaction with her husband looks like one that has her fighting back tears. We might not learn about Ray and Ethel's marriage very much in the film, but we know enough in regards to how we gauge their sullen, long faces when in the presence of one another.
The funniest thing I find is that it's through The Founder that you more-or-less realize why McDonald's has been reporting lower-than-anticipated quarterly earnings for quite sometime now. Arrive at any of their restaurants and you find an overblown menu that specializes in everything from iced coffee to basic hamburgers to so-called "artisan" sandwiches. All the money the corporation funneled into failed experiments, such as specialty burgers and the Angus line of all-meat patties, the training, and the supplies needed to create those products effectively, bombed and left them groveling for any kind of success. Why do you think "all day breakfast" finally became a thing, despite people begging for it ten years ago and eventually moving on?
The Founder is a very good movie, entertaining as it is incorrigible. I, for one, was expecting to be outraged; I've watched a couple of documentaries about Kroc and, living in Illinois, where the "first" McDonald's was erected in Des Plaines and its accompanying headquarters sits in Oak Brook, I knew a thing or two about his character going into the film. Perhaps there's not a better day than today to watch a film about a manipulative multi-millionaire, who used coercion and scare-tactics in order to get where he needed to be. There's a lot to be said, but I think The Notorious B.I.G. said it best: "if you don't know, now you know."