It may be safe to assume that there are not too many people in the United States that have never eaten at McDonald’s, even those that are now vegan or vegetarian must at some point in their life, been taken to McDonald’s. The restaurant chain with the golden arches is a staple of thousands of towns across the country, but all of it started with just one restaurant, until Ray Kroc came along and put the red and yellow buildings in every state, plus a few more countries. The Founder tells Kroc’s story, struggling salesman who takes an idea from one burger stand in California, and turns it into the poster child for fast food. Kroc is played by Michael Keaton, who displays the drive, determination, and sleaze needed to wrestle away the business from those that truly started it, Dick and Mac McDonald. The story shown in the film is one that start innocently enough, as Kroc stumbles on a small burger stand in the early 1950s that is making and serving food in only 30 seconds, which is a small fraction of the time it took drive-ins to do the same thing. Kroc is portrayed as somebody who is down on his luck, and is willing to bet it all on this venture, and convinces the McDonald brothers to let him start franchising the business, carrying their method of food service to each and every stand. While the ambition and drive of Kroc is admirable, his quest for success eventually leads to him choosing greed over integrity, and it is this stage where the audience stops rooting for Kroc, because he becomes such a terrible person. There are moments throughout the movie that foreshadow this change, but a few of these could have been fleshed out a little more, to make some of the decisions more authentic. The film does a really good job of showing the philosophical differences between Kroc and the McDonalds, as the brothers are genuine nice guys who simply wanted to make the best food going experience they could, and are extremely likable throughout the film. This makes the eventual resolution that much more heartbreaking, as you really are made to feel bad for them, and there is a speech by Kroc towards the end that hammers home the difference in ideologies that works really well.
Keaton is great in this role as he expertly shows off the ability to be so likeable in the beginning of the film, and so hated by the end. He portrays the hard-working, can do spirit that allowed McDonald’s to move past just being the one stand, before shifting to the smarmy businessman who is only concerned with himself. He also plays very well as the antithesis to the McDonald brothers, as they are much more simple people who see no need to expand if it means losing what makes their restaurant great. Dick and Mac are played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch respectively, and both do a good job of showing the naive niceness that allows Kroc to snake the company away from them. Offerman is great at showing the smart and meticulous man who created the “speedy system,” while Lynch’s Mac is the far too trusting one, who believes that expansion will fulfill their dream they have always had. The introduction of the speedy system is a particularly fun scene, watching a group of 50’s teens pantomime making hamburgers, which also shows the inventiveness of Dick, as well has his attention to detail. When things start to break down it also allows Offerman to play a much angrier man, while Lynch shows sadness as things start to crumble around them. The dichotomy between the brothers, matched with the differences between themselves and Kroc, are really amped up the closing moments. The rest of the cast includes Laura Dern as Kroc’s wife, and really the only foil for Kroc throughout most of the film, and who ultimately wasn’t an interesting enough character to include as much as they did. There additions later in the film of Patrick Wilson, and his wife Linda Cardellini, who also feel like add-ons. And while Cardellini’s character ultimately proves more important to the ending of the film, the couple’s inclusion in the film feels out-of-place. B.J. Novak also makes a late addition, and while he isn’t a standout, his contribution to the story is much more impactful than any of the other supporting characters.
The Founder is by no means a knockout hit, nor is it a particularly hard-hitting look at the history of McDonald’s, though it is another worthwhile biopic from director John Lee Hancock, who is no stranger to the genre, having previously directed Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side. This film is still enjoyable to see, as the main cast, and compelling story provide insight into a company that everybody knows.