*Yo, this be a review from chaboi Jason, originally posted over on his blog (links below). Alright, as you were…*
The American Dream, Folks.
McDonalds. Without me even talking about it, you probably know what I’m talking about. Yes, those two golden arches in shape of letter M and one of the biggest fast food franchises on the planet is what I’m talking about. From Big Macs to Egg McMuffins (and everything else in-between), McDonalds has (over the years) become a dominating force in the fast food industry, with new locations opening up everywhere from standard restaurants locations to smaller mall and airport locations. Currently, McDonalds is the largest food restaurant chain in the world, serving approximately 68 million customers daily in 119 countries across approximately 36,615 outlets. It has (quite literally) become a household name as well as iconic in the fast food world. But how did it all begin? Was it an overnight success? Who was the brain behind it all? Why was McDonalds successful? To help answer that questions, The Weinstein Company, FilmNation Entertainment, and director John Lee Hancock present (under a cinematic feature) the story behind McDonalds in the new movie The Founder. Is it worth sinking your teeth into this newest bio-pic drama or is it a dry picture that lacks substance beyond its tale of Hamburgers and fries?
Set in the year 1954, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is an ambitious milkshake machine salesman, who is struggling to find clients (local drive-in restaurants) to purchase his product and having trouble to “bring home the bacon” to his wife Ethel (Laura Dern). With the bills starting to stack up and seems misguided in his futile attempts in the milkshake machine business, Ray gets his break breaking when a customer asks for a large order of milkshake machines in San Bernardino, California. Traveling there, Ray meets the McDonald brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch), and witness their revolutionary restaurant (McDonalds), a new kind of “take and go” restaurant that keeps the menu simplistic and is operated with speed and effeminacy. Marveled by what the two brothers have accomplished, Ray seizes opportunity, asking the McDonald brothers to allow him to expand and franchise their restaurant. While sharing his vision (but not completely), the brothers make him Ray a partner, drawing up a contract that would be beneficial to both parties. With surefire idea, Ray hits the ground running and, through some trial and error processes, becomes successful, opening up several McDonalds restaurants in the Mid-west. While listening to the legal words of Harry J. Sonneborn (B.J. Novak) and flirtatious words of Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), wife of wealth restaurant owner Rollie Smith (Patrick Wilson), Ray begins to aggressively takes McDonald to new heights and in a new direction, which causes ire from the two McDonald brothers, who believe that Ray is acting outside his legal parameters.
The Good/The Bad:
Like most Americans, I do enjoy going and eating McDonalds. Ever since I was kid, I remember going to McDonalds and enjoyed eating their food. I mean there literally everywhere you go, so it kind of hard not to run into one. When I was younger, I ate the kid’s meal (hamburger) and graduated to eating and liking the Big Mac (the classic #1 meal) and then I went through a chicken nugget phase, and now (currently) I usually choose to eat a double quarter pounder with cheese (I think it’s a #4 meal right now). Of fast foods joints, I probably do like McDonalds the best (Wendy’s sort of taste different ever since their founder Dave Thomas passed away and Burger King is sort of hit or miss with me). However, I don’t go overboard in eating McDonalds (or eating fast food in general). I usually pick up McDonalds once in a while or when I’m traveling (there’s usually one or two in airports or train stations). So yes, I do like McDonalds, which prompted me to see The Founder. Honestly, I vaguely remembering hearing something about this movie (via online). I didn’t even see the trailer for the movie in theaters (I know…quite shocking), but I remember hearing that it had Michael Keaton in it and was about the story of McDonalds, a tale of which I’ve never heard of before. So, without even seeing the movie trailer (I did actually watch right after I saw the movie), I went to go see The Founder on a Monday afternoon. What did I think of it?
The Founder is directed by John Lee Hancock, whose previous filmmaking works include directing The Alamo, The Blind Slide, and Saving Mr. Banks. With past work that involves revealing untold stories of individuals (i.e. The Blind Slide and Saving Mr. Banks), Hancock seems the perfect fit to uncover (through a camera lens) to tell the story of McDonald, how it all began, and all the complexity to make it want it became today. Hancock has great addition to detail or rather in character detail, making us (the viewer) carry about the film’s characters, which he does in The Founder; casting a sympathetic light on the two McDonald brothers as well as Ray Kroc (well… at least for the first half of the film). However, unlike The Blind Slide and Saving Mr. Banks, which are mostly a sort of “feel good” story and make you that way by film’s end, The Founder isn’t quite like that, which is one of the film’s strongest aspects. The film’s script, penned by Robert D. Siegel, tells a very interesting story from one of the world’s largest fast food chains. I’m sure that mostly everyone knows the McDonalds name and its food establishment, but how many really know the story of how it all began. My guess is probably not a whole lot. Which makes The Founder’s story very interesting to watch and unfold from beginning to end, showcasing that is not all about burgers and milkshakes, but rather the moral ambiguity of business ethics as well as the price for the American Dream.
Another interesting aspect about The Founder is that it shares a similar story to The Social Network (both in its theatrical representation and its real-life counterpart). I know it sounds like two completely different tales (one about fast food restaurant chain and the other about an internet social media outlet), but, if you think about it, you’ll see that there almost one in the same. Both are about a protagonist character (Kroc/Zuckerberg) who steal an idea from two brothers (the Winklevoss brothers/the McDonalds brothers) and then listens to someone (Sean Parker/Harry J. Sonneborn), which ultimately turns their business into a successful empire. In truth, both films share a similitude on the ethics of conducting business and how deceitful Kroc and Zuckerberg were to build their empire. Thus, in The Founder, Ray Kroc, a down-on-his-luck milkshake salesman, comes across the McDonalds brothers, who are literally seating on a goldmine, but are too “mom and pop” in their business to see what it truly could become. This, of course, prompts Kroc take the McDonalds restaurant idea in expanding the business under the ideal premise of “no reward without risk”. Even after that, Kroc is still met with obstruction from the brothers, much like Zuckerberg did with Eduardo Saverin, which is when (at this point in The Founder) where Kroc starts to become more deceitful and undermines the McDonalds brother’s authority in order to become more successful. In short, much like what Mark Zuckerberg did, Ray Kroc forged a very successful business (with the business almost become a brand), but does it in a very deceitful and ethical wrong way.
Thus, this poses an interesting discussion with viewers… was Ray Kroc’s journey the right course of action? What if he worked on the same level with the two brothers? And would McDonald be the same if he did? And lastly, does achieving the coveted “American Dream” mean that you have to trample those underneath you in order to get that desired state of financial success? The answer to all of these are ambiguously unclear. However, some business moguls are living proof of that mantra (just a little food for thought).
In terms of filmmaking, the film is quality made. It doesn’t go big or become flashy, but maintains a sense of well-crafted material throughout the movie’s proceedings. With the film primarily set in the 50s, The Founder makes sure it has the “look and feel” of that particular time period through its set and production design (credited to Susan Benjamin and Michael Corenblith), to the costume designs (Daniel Orlandi). There’s even a few slick shots thanks to the film’s cinematographer John Schwartzman. So, while a viewer might not care for the movie as much as me, The Founder does (aesthetically) keeps up the movie’s 50s appearance with the fixated time period.
As I stated, while the movie shares a similar narrative of The Social Network, The Founder falls prey to the same criticism. For starters, if one takes a look at the film’s structure, The Founder’s narrative is front heavy, with a lot of time spent on Ray Kroc’s beginning, with the third act sort of rushing through events (the rise of McDonalds name across the US and such). In conjunction with that, the film also has a multiple of sides-stories that are presented, but are never fully developed beyond what’s given. This includes Kroc’s interest with Joan Smith and his detachment with his current wife, Ethel. In addition, even though the movie was more about Ray Kroc, I think it would’ve help the movie showcased a bit more about Dick and Mac McDonald. Lastly, there are a couple of scenes in the movie (scattered about) that were a bit unnecessary, with a camera lingering a bit too long for just dramatic poise.
The cast in The Founder is great assemblage of actors and actresses, lending their talents to play these real-life counterpart characters. Of course, leading the charge is seasoned actor Michael Keaton playing Ray Kroc. Keaton, known for his roles in Batman, Spotlight, and Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), delivers a solid performance as Kroc. With the character being both protagonist and (as the movie progresses) antagonist, you need cast an actor would be both hero and villain at the same time. Luckily, Hancock was able to secure Keaton in such a role, with the 65-year-old actor deliver a stirring performance in the movie in a way that makes you love Ray Kroc in one scene and despise him in another. And that’s good acting. All in all, while he probably won’t get any nominations or awards for his role in this movie, Michael Keaton’s Ray Kroc is an excellent character role for the veteran actor in his body of work.
Behind Keaton’s portrayal of Ray Kroc, The Founder sees two great performances in the two McDonald brothers (Dick and Mac), who are played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch. While Lynch, known for his roles in the TV American Horror Stories as well movies like Shutter Island and Zodiac, delivers a fine role as the more kind-hearted brother Mac, its Nick Offerman, famous for his role as Ron Swanson from the TV show Parks and Recreation, who delivers very profound performance as the more-business like brother Dick. In truth, it’s actually quite a surprise to see Offerman play such a character as I’ve never seeing him plays such a dramatic role. I mean, I knew he could do comedy, but seeing him in this movie (exchanging dialogue scenes with Michael Keaton) … wow. That is something. The rest of The Founder’s supporting cast is an also a collective group of talented individuals and adding their acting talents to the film. This include Linda Cardellini as Joan Smith, wife to Rollie Smith who Kroc becomes infatuated with, Laura Dern as Ethel Kroc, Ray’s Kroc’s wife, and B.J. Novak as Harry J. Sonneborn, Kroc’s advisor who helps propel his ambitions forward. My only minor complaint in the supporting cast is with the character of Rollie Smith, played by Patrick Wilson. Wilson is a very talented actor, so his performance is not in question, but rather his character. I know he’s there to introduce Joan Smith, but that’s pretty much it, seeking Rollie Smith only lingering in a few fleeting moments here and there.
It’s’ a dog eats dog world of business, burgers, restaurants, and golden arches in the film The Founder. Director John Lee Hancock’s newest movie takes closer look at the untold story of how McDonalds became one of the world’s largest fast food chains. Though the movie stumbles here and there in its narrative structure and side-story beats, the film has a very interesting story to tell as well as being quality made and is performed by some talented actors, especially with Michael Keaton. Personally, I liked this movie. It may not be one everyone’s “must see” movie list (including myself), but it was definitely interesting story to learn about as well as being an entertaining feature film to watch. So in the end, I would say that I would both recommend seeing the movie in theaters and as a solid (and worthy) rental to watch when it gets release later this year on home video. After watching this movie, I have a different take on every time I drive pass or eat at a McDonalds. If you’re fan of Michael Keaton or of The Social Network, then definitely check this movie out.
For what it’s worth, The Founder is an intrigue film, showcasing the hard look of one man’s journey to building one of the famous franchises in the world, but does it by delving into duplicated world of backstabbing in order to achieve that every same goal. Just like what Ray Kroc says in the movie “If I saw a competitor drowning, I’d shove a hose down his throat”. Now answer this question… would you?
The Founder runs for 115 minutes long and is rated PG-13 in the US, and 12 in the UK.