John Lee Hancock’s 2016 biopic film stars Michael Keaton as travelling milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc; getting nowhere selling his machines, he soon receives a large order from Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), who operate a unique fast food restaurant where the food is served within seconds and with no plates or cutlery. Seeing the immense potential in the McDonalds’ business, he convinces them to let him franchise their business, promising to put McDonald’s restaurants all over the country, mortgaging his house in the process, and it soon becomes a countywide sensation. But when the McDonald brothers continually reject Ray’s ideas, he slowly starts building up his own empire, gradually edging the brothers out as he begins to take over their business.
As you would surely expect from him by now, Michael Keaton is great in the leading role of the flawed, ambitious, anti-hero grafter Ray Kroc; Kroc certainly has the gift of gab and he is certainly charismatic and persistent enough for us to constantly will him to build his empire and to make money but he does inevitably go on to be that bit more ruthless and underhand, making those harsh, unpopular business decisions and gradually pushing the McDonald brothers out of their own business. But even with all this, Kroc shows plenty of feelings along the way and even though he lets it all go to his head, not letting anything stand in his way, he clearly cares about Dick and Mac, often showing remorse and uncertainty over his actions, even though that doesn’t stop him from continuing to build his Empire. As I say, Keaton can do no wrong these days; his character is well rounded, charismatic and full of energy and Keaton carries the film admirably, excellent actor that he is.
There’s a good supporting cast (Patrick Wilson, BJ Novak, Laura Dern) but it’s understandably Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch who play the biggest sporting roles as the McDonald brothers. Dick McDonald is the one who calls the shots, putting Kroc in his place plenty of times, and Nick Offerman is commanding and powerful in the role, while John Carroll Lynch is “the nice guy”, giving Kroc the benefit of the doubt and trying to avoid confrontation because of his health problems, but eventually getting to vent and show outrage by the end. Even though they’re essentially confined to one location throughout the film, constantly conversing with Kroc via telephone from their restaurant, Offerman and Lynch work well together and it’s always easy to support and sympathise with them.
The Founder has a clear, solid structure and for the most part, it maintains a steady pace and the story is always really interesting – the tale of how the world’s most popular fast food chain came to be is surely worthy of the big screen treatment. It tends to get a little bit too much like a documentary a couple of times though, especially in an early, and frankly overlong, segment that looks at how the McDonalds set up their first restaurant, black and white photos and all; it’s a minor point but this sequence could have been cut in half, although watching the brothers’ story and core beliefs is admittedly vital to the character development, and the documentary element results in a mismatch of style and tone, if that makes any sense. And of course, it’s all fundamentally very similar to The Social Network, not that that bothered me in the slightest.
But overall, the story is very entertaining, informative and, at certain points, quite funny, even if this isn’t the kind of film that will exactly set the world alight and it could be considered to be quite “by the book”. It’s also worth mentioning that all of Kroc’s inspiring speeches about how McDonald’s restaurants represent America, how they’re basically as important as church, coupled with the montage scenes of the McDonald’s empire flourishing and expanding worldwide, certainly made me smile and for me, I’d say that The Founder does well in conjuring up a sense of pride and admiration for this international food behemoth.
In other areas, the film is beautifully designed (all those shots of the McDonald’s restaurants are mightily impressive) and the great Carter Burwell’s everpresent score is a lovely accompaniment.
And yes, it makes you want to go out and get a hamburger and a milkshake. But for a bit more than 35 cents, I’m guessing.