The American dream – where hard work and perseverance gets rewarded by immense wealth – is shown to be more than a little greasy in The Founder, the biopic of McDonald’s “burger billionaire” Ray Kroc.
The film opens in 1954, with Kroc (the great Michael Keaton, Spotlight) as a travelling salesman shilling a five-spindle milkshake maker that no restaurant owner wants to buy, despite Kroc’s gung ho promotional zeal.
Hard working but a little hapless, Kroc gets numerous rejections during the day and self-medicates with whiskey in shabby motel rooms at night, boozily falling asleep to a “persevere and believe in yourself” recording by a Norman Vincent Peale-style huckster in the great American tradition of self-improvement.
Unexpectedly this glad-handing hustler chances upon a thriving drive-in burger joint in San Bernardino where a tasty meal gets delivered to its customers in an amazing 30 seconds. It’s thanks to an innovative kitchen layout complemented by a clockwork assembly line, both custom designed by its proud owners, two small-town brothers named Dick and Mac.
That cute little McDonald’s Restaurant was a fast-food revolution waiting to happen. And Kroc, after a lifetime of hawking one third-rate product after another, suddenly saw the future – and it was golden indeed.
After convincing the reluctant brothers to bring him in as a partner responsible for developing franchises, Kroc takes his show on the road.
Initially faltering – he remortgages his house and nearly loses it to the bank – Kroc eventually comes up with a winning formula for selecting franchisees with the right attitude and work ethic. But breakout success inflames the man’s greed and grandiose ambitions, which eventually puts him completely at odds with his humble partners back in San Bernardino. Would you like fries with that lawsuit?
Founder is an entertaining and sometimes fascinating tale of how those iconic golden arches anchored the fast-food phenomenon that now feeds one percent of the world’s population on a daily basis. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks) plays it safe and employs a folksy style of storytelling that glosses over some of the sliminess when big money triumphed over honour and ethics. The real reason to see this movie is for the fantastic performance by Keaton, whose nuanced portrait is an Oscar-worthy equivalent to the full meal deal.
Rating: *** Stars Michael Keaton, Laura Dern Directed by John Lee Hancock