I don’t normally go for biopics, because I generally find non-fiction boring, but The Founder was a story I was strangely drawn to, possibly because I had read the broad strokes of Ray Kroc’s story a while back and found it fascinating.
For a movie that lacks the major drama we’re used to expecting from biographical films, turning an anti-hero salesman into an interesting figure was a big ask. Still, Siegel and Hancock’s adaptation of the history behind an unusual man who turned a revolutionary idea into the fast food empire we all know today rose to the chalenge.
The movie did a great job at evoking the 50’s vibe beautifully, but for me, what lended The Founder its appeal was the all around excellent performances. Nick Offerman and John Carrol Lynch were all incredible in their roles as the McDonald brothers, as were the rest of the cast, the the man who stole the show was undeniably Michael Keaton.
His performance as Ray Kroc combined the enthusiastic (yet unsuccessful) sales pitches of Jerry McGuire, the ruthless greed of Gordon Gecko, the cutthroat attitude of pretty much everyone in Glengary Glen Ross and a slightly more subdued approach to excess than Jordan Belfort. And I’m not pulling this out of my ass. Apparently these are the movies Keaton studied in preparation for his role, and he managed to hit the sweet spot between desperate hustler, unrelenting entrepreneur and merciless magnate.
Ray Kroc’s journey started out as a story about persistence and quickly turned into a blueprint for success – as long as you combine your resourcefulness with a willingness willing to stop at nothing to pursue your goals.
In effect, Kroc wasn’t a nice guy. He capitalized on the McDonalds’ ingenious idea and kicked the brothers to the curb, much like he traded in his reluctant and quasi-supportive wife for a newer, prettier model. He had no qualms about snatching the McDonald’s corporation from under them, just like he didn’t hesitate to steal away the wife of one of his investors. His antics don’t diminish his business acumen, but definitely raise an important point about his moral fiber: Kroc wasn’t so much persistent as he was cutthroat, and while that doesn’t make for a very nice man, it does make for good drama fodder.
As for the story, I’m not entirely sure how accurate the plot was to the real events (and I’m too lazy to go back and refresh my memory). Was Dick McDonald really that contrarian, conservative and resistant to change? Possibly. But that still doesn’t make him less sympathetic, especially considering that the two brothers were bought off for peanuts, compared to the fast food colossus McDonald’s went on to become.
My one complaint has nothing to do with the actual movie, but rather, the fact that some details seemed to be glossed over. When I first read about Ray Kroc, the one thing that really stuck with me was how pedantic and detail oriented he was as he was expanding his franchise operation. What made a huge impression on me wasn’t so much the cold-blooded way he exploited the McDonald’s ground-breaking methods to build his own empire, but his single-mindedness and dedication to maintaining quality control, to the point where every single burger patty was weight down to the gram and every single hamburger bun had the same exact number of sesame seeds on top. Again, I don’t know how accurate those accounts are, but giving these attributes to Dick, and having Ray be the one who cut corners (as with the powdered milkshakes) felt a bit odd.
Still, this minor detail absolutely didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. Keaton was captivating to watch and played the part to perfection.
Also, unlike most biopics focusing on historical figures that are usually specific to a nation, a region or an era, the story behind McDonald’s actually resonates with pretty much every audience worldwide: the rise of the fast-food industry may not be the most prominent event of the 20th century on a political, historical or socio-economic level, but it sure is something pretty much everyone can relate to.