Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Cinematography: John Schwartzman
Runtime: 1h 55m
Genre: Biography, Drama
“The Founder” follows Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton, as he transitions from a milk shake maker salesman to ‘founding’ the biggest name in fast food. His duplicitous behavior helped bring him riches beyond his wildest imagination, but at the cost of both business and personal relationships. The director, John Lee Hancock, straddles the benevolent nature of big business by showcasing Kroc’s success through self-fulfilling perseverance and blatant disregard for anyone else. His desire to maintain forward momentum left many behind him in his wake in order for one the best business models to date to flourish. Good, wholesome, intentions overpowered by greed and pride is at the heart of this film. Did Richard and Maurice McDonald lack the follow-through to execute a venture on this magnitude or were they just steamrolled by an ambitious cutthroat?
I am not sure how much of this film bears any resemblance to the actual events or if Ray Kroc is supposed to be the hero or antihero. Perhaps this is the point that makes an already interesting story about one of the most recognized brands even more alluring to Hollywood. Kroc’s style and demeanor is corrosive and relentless. He will either wear you down or wear through you. Could he achieve his goals without creating a wake of destruction around him? Either way, there is merit in diligence and recognizing the best path and pursuing it. Kroc’s evolution gives Keaton more to work with and a strong foothold as the lead. However, this doesn’t fully translate over to the rest of the cast. This is not a jab at the supporting cast. Their characters are simply written only to support the lead and drive his narrative forward or to showcase the McDonald’s brand.
It is interesting how the protagonist begins the story as a hard working American striving for the American Dream. Even though he is struggling with a lackluster product and the reality of his unsuccessful plight through life he is still unrelenting. His desire to be successful is almost overshadowed by his desire to be respected. Once he gets his opportunity with the McDonald’s brothers, he is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals. Now that he finally has a product worthy of the effort and time he is willing to put in, there is no stopping him. As the story unfolds, so too does Ray Kroc. He is transformed from someone seeking the American Dream to someone who is providing the American Dream to others. He is beginning to gain the respect that he seeks, but he is unable to capture the fortune that should go hand in hand. His momentum created the embers of an empire, yet he did not seat himself at the top. He lacked any ownership, any creative input, and real power. This marked a tipping point in the plot where Kroc needed to manufacture a role in the growing phenomenon for his ego and wallet to flourish.
Kroc’s character begins the film as the typical protagonist hero and ends the film as an ambivalent amalgam of rational business practices, self-serving and fulfilling desires, and thankless pride. To some, Kroc may be a shining example of how to succeed and capitalize on an opportunity, while to others he may come across as being needlessly cutthroat and greedy. This is what makes Kroc’s character so interesting. He can be criticized for how he treated his wife, but why stay in a marriage you are not happy in. The way he bought out Richard and Maurice McDonald may have been dishonest, but they still walked away with $2.7 Million dollars. He did what he needed to do in order to take the company in the direction that he wanted to take it. He didn’t create the first McDonald’s, but he was the founder of what we know today as McDonald’s.
The Founder is , like many other films, an embellishment of true events. Who knows what was really said or how certain events really played out. It is hard to tell if The Founder is being especially hard or lenient when it comes to how it characterized Ray Kroc, Richard and Maurice McDonald, and every other character. However, it does seem to tell enough from both sides to effectively tell the story.
The ‘historical’ aspect of The Founder is a little sloppy at times. The addition of the “historical pictures” perhaps gives the film a sense of accuracy, or that a family slideshow reel slipped in there. I actually like it when real footage or photography is used in films, but this was not consistent with the rest of the film. Only in the beginning of the movie are we, the viewer, given a date. The rest of the film flies by without any sense of time or pacing. Without knowing how much time has passed it is more difficult to grasp how different characters would have been effected by the actions of Kroc or different events in the film.
Overall, the film has some interesting storytelling and insight into how turn a big idea into a monster idea. Don’t see the film for any noteworthy cinematography or character development outside of the lead. The focus on this film is Keaton and his portrayal of Ray Kroc and it is worth watching.