THE FOUNDER. Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, and Laura Dern. Directed by John Lee Hancock. Rated M (Coarse language). 115 min.
This biographical drama chronicles the growth of McDonald's fast food franchise from a drive-in and barbecue, hamburger restaurant in Southern California in 1940, to a world-wide business empire that has established one of the best known leading fast food brands in the world. McDonald's is the world's largest restaurant chain, and serves customers in over 36,000 outlets.
The focus of the film is firmly on its "founder", Ray Kroc., who became its first CEO, and the first President of the McDonald Corporation.
The McDonald Brothers, Mac and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) first set up business in San Bernardino, California, and formed a small company. In 1954, they met travelling Illinois salesman, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), who was impressed with the efficiency of the brothers in how they ran their fast food outlets. He offered to franchise them across America. From an original purchase price of $2.7 million, the estimated franchise empire has now grown to have a property value of more than $18 billion.
In the movie, Kroc attempts to take control of the Brothers' company, and the film makes excellent use of the iconic trademarks in the McDonald's marketing empire. John Hancock, the Director of the film, has reconstructed the McDonald Brothers' assembly line and the original McDonald's restaurants with great care, and their reconstruction is impressively realistic. The film is not just about the growth of the McDonald's domain. It is also about the growth of the fast-food empire in the United States.
Keaton plays the part of Kroc with the energy and intensity of a man whose ideas changed constantly in his pursuit of "the power of the positive". He needed desperately to sell his personal vision to the McDonald Brothers. As Kroc's financial ambitions took shape and changed, the corporate identity of McDonald's grew in significance and profitable return. Kroc's aggressive energy morphed into a display of cunning, manipulative business acumen that created major tensions between himself and the McDonald Brothers. The Brothers came to resent how Kroc assumed the credit for what they believed they achieved, and they resented, in particular, the fact that he labelled himself as "The Founder" of the McDonald's empire.
Keaton brings a nervous energy to the character of Ray Kroc in a way that reminds one of the lead role he took in "Birdman" (2014 ). As his obsession with the McDonald's empire grew, tensions also grew in his relationship with his wife, Ethel (Laura Dern) which led to divorce. Kroc was a man, who, by his very nature, always put business above family concerns. His personal relationships with others suffered, and he denied the Brothers what they considered was their fair share of the McDonald's franchise.
This is an informative biographical film about one of the most famous food brands in the world. Keaton makes the role of Kroc distinctively his own. In doing so, he delivers a portrayal of Kroc that is not very likeable. The "McDonald's" name represented to Kroc the American Dream, and the film becomes a patriotic ode to American consumerism. It is not altogether edifying to know (as the final credits tell us) that McDonald's now feeds 1% of the world's population every day.
The film captures the era of the 1950s nostalgically, but the period it covers, and the film's style of direction, insulates us from any major consideration of contemporary food or business concerns. The film has impact, largely because it projects a fascinating snapshot of what is arguably America's most famous fast food empire, and the personality of the man who helped begin it all.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and broadcasting
Released November 24th., 2016.