Written by: Robert Siegel
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini. Patrick Wilson
Working in business raises a level of paranoia whenever making agreements with others in trying to decipher their intentions and upside. No one gets into a deal for the greater good, but rather how it can ultimately benefit them. Not having this mindset leaves you to be vulnerable as the brothers who started McDonald’s quickly learned when they allowed one fox into the henhouse. While serving as a biopic, The Founder digs into these horrendous practices and truly how evil they can be.
Frustrated with his career progression selling milkshake mixers, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) eats at a family-run fast food joint called McDonald’s. Impressed by their efficiency matched with great food, he begs to help them expand but once he smells blood he takes the opportunity to take this right from under them.
There’s simply no way to avoid the golden arches of McDonald’s whenever driving on a major American highway. It’s feasible to see one every ten miles depending on which stretch of highway you travel on. Undoubtedly one of the biggest fast-food chains known for cheap food, regardless of the actual quality. This film provides quite the nice history lesson of how this all began with two brothers making food with incredible pride and seeing what it has turned into makes the stomach churn. The events of The Founder play out as an incredible tragedy and how an individual with the right information can completely swoop in and steal something because of technicalities. Ruthlessness, in particular, becomes the name of the game here and it becomes difficult to watch at times.
As portrayed in this feature Ray Kroc had a good life with a decent job and a caring wife. Something just kept pestering him about not getting the big prize. An insatiable appetite to prove himself beyond what he has already done. The question became just how far he was willing to push this ambition and who we would knowingly hurt in the process. As evident through this story, he would do plenty. Meeting the bright-eyed and loving McDonald brothers, Richard (Nick Offerman) and Maurice (John Carroll Lynch) makes it all more difficult to swallow because they entered the food industry to create something pure. They were innovative and made food with quality ingredients. Their efforts to franchise in the past failed because the caliber of service dipped with other management in accordance with their standards. Ray Kroc, however, could only see the dollar sign potential, and the way he takes over this sweet idea like a parasite becomes quite the sight.
As predicted by the brothers, the more franchises started, the more quality drops to the point where cost-saving ultimately degrades the entire identity of the founding idea of their initial restaurant. However, as this film and history have demonstrated, quality does not matter at the end of the day. It all comes down to the money and as long as the food is affordable, the crowds will come, playing right into Kroc’s hands. There’s a reason McDonald’s remains one of the most frequented fast food joints in the entire world and it certainly does not come from the quality of their burgers.
Even with the enveloping story, this film is ultimately the Michael Keaton show and he proves to be such a treat to watch. Having him play the embodiment of evil with the level of ambition and heartlessness he displays appears so out of character but it suits him well. In the beginning, his character appears like a scrappy underdog just trying to achieve something in life, but through his performance, Keaton slowly unravels the true intentions. Kroc simply wanted to make as much money as possible and as a result, squashed everyone in the process. The scenes of extreme snark and ruthlessness play out so well simply because of Keaton. Just as he betrays the McDonald’s brothers, he does the same for the audience as we rooted for his success and were left with what he became.
Straightforward with its story, but one to remind us of the ruthlessness inherent to capitalism, The Founder gives us the backstory of the golden arches. Not only in what it represents but how it came to prominence by a guy who unapologetically ruined many people in the process of making it what it is today. This experience certainly made me feel guilty ordering another McChicken but when it’s $1, it brings me right back to Kroc and the methods of fast food franchising that have dominated the industry for so long.