“McDonald’s can be the new American church, and it ain’t just opened on Sundays, boys,” says Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) to the McDonald brothers as he tries to convince them to hire him to help franchise their one fast food burger eatery in the dramatic film, The Founder, based on true events.
The film begins in the 1950s with Ray Kroc, a struggling middle-aged milk shake machine salesman from Illinois, driving to San Bernardino, CA after learning a small burger eatery ordered six of his machines. Kroc meets with the burger joint’s owners, Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman), and witnesses their revolutionary “speedy” system of making food. Proud and confident, the brothers give Kroc the tour of their small eatery and he’s awestruck by the efficiency of their workers, the taste of the burgers, and the fact that the lone burger place was extremely popular with the locals. Kroc senses a potential for big money and offers to take the brothers to dinner because he wants to hear their story.
At dinner, the brothers reveal how they ended up in the food business and how they realized in order to stand out and make a go of it, they created the speedy system where your food is ready in 30 seconds instead of 30 minutes like other burger places. Kroc is fascinated with the brothers’ story and tries to convince them to let him help them franchise it from coast to coast. Reluctant at first, the brothers decide to draw up a contract and hire Ray to franchise their local burger restaurant.
Kroc begins to work to have the brothers’ burger place, McDonald’s, open all across America. After years of struggling, almost going bankrupt and not making any profit, Kroc discovers a way to legally take the company from the brothers and turn it into the billion dollar empire it is today.
Based on a true story, The Founder is a smart, intriguing, and engaging film with strong performances. Michael Keaton delivers another fascinating and unforgettable performance as Ray Kroc, the down-on-his-luck salesman who goes from barely being able to afford his mortgage to becoming the billionaire who revolutionized fast food burgers and put McDonald’s in every state in America. Keaton captures and brings to the screen the many sides of Kroc’s personality; his desperation and frustration trying to make a living as a salesman and Kroc’s admiration of the McDonald brothers’ burger place and the need to be a part of it. Keaton also shows perfectly how the greed and need to take the business from the brothers grows after he finds success in creating the franchise and being the face of McDonald’s. It’s truly a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination.
Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch deliver strong performances as the McDonald brothers, with Lynch being the talkative and likeable one and Offerman being the brains behind the operation while being socially rigid. The two actors have solid chemistry together and are the tragic figures in the film.
The film’s production design is terrific, bringing back to life the look, sound, feel, and pulse that was 1950s America, perfectly capturing the cars, clothes, music, furniture, and hairstyles of the era. Also very impressive is the look and design of the original McDonald’s and the very first golden arches.
The only real problem with the film is when it steers off course and briefly focuses on Kroc’s home life – or lack thereof – with his wife, Ethel (Laura Dern), as well as the beginning of his romance with his future wife, Joan (Linda Cardellini). These uninteresting subplots are a distraction from the main story.
With a dynamic performance by Keaton, a strong script, and a provocative story, The Founder is the first must-see film of 2017.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 111 minutes
Directed By: John Lee Hancock