If you have an ounce of moral fibre within you, craving a McDonald’s is something you certainly won’t be upon exiting the cinema after The Founder. Based on the story of the ruthless dealings of the man – Ray Kroc - that took the Golden Arches from a small family restaurant and made the McDonald’s name into a global sensation will leave you feeling a Big Mac’s worth of disgust.
An absorbing insight into a man, whose marketing prowess and utter lack of doing the decent thing comes from the screenwriting table of Robert Siegal (The Wrestler), with Michael Keaton playing the assertive and somewhat abhorrent Ray Kroc, a simple hardworking salesman from Illinois with a thirst for ambition, selling milkshake mixers on the road from the back of his car. When a big order comes through from one restaurant – after having door after door slammed in his face – he feels compelled to take a trip down to said restaurant to find out what’s going on. Arriving in Southern California he is taken aback at the fast and efficient service and the happy customers it attracts. The restaurant is McDonald’s, a simple hamburger stand run by brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald. And Kroc soon sees the potential for exploitation.
For most of the first half, the excellently cast Keaton builds a likeable yet quite forceful character in Kroc, not only winning over the trust of the McDonald brothers but that of the audience too. As the drama unfolds, the brother’s let Kroc in on the business with the idea of expanding through franchises throughout the country. Kroc is eager, with a brain full of ideas that could expand the business for the better not only saving on costs but also cutting corners on quality products, which does not sit too well with the brothers. Up to this point, it feels like an underdog made good story but that very quickly changes when we dive into the second half, with interest starting to wane as we speed through the narrative just a little too quickly.
There are a number of occasions, especially with Keaton’s unassuming pieces to camera; similarities to his portrayal of Beetlejuice smack you in the face like a cold flannel. However, with the decline of Kroc’s own finances and the breakdown of his marriage after falling for a number of much younger women, his ruthless streak sneaks through his greasy, slimy pores. When the answer to his money issues are resolved through real-estate – leading to a hostile takeover which the brothers fight with every ounce of their own will - his own conscience, or lack of one, never plays a part in any guilt.
Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side director, John Lee Hancock has created a fascinating insight into the workings of Kroc, a man who stole a family business from right under the MacDonald brother’s noses to turn it into a worldwide global sensation but not without its deeply immoral and greedy twist which saw Kroc evolve into a billion-dollar money magnet at the expense of others. It’s not hard to see why The Founder’s release comes at such a volatile and unstable political time, similarities to the Trump-era scream so loud it surely can’t be any coincidence.