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‘The Founder’ (review)

Produced by Don Handfield, Karen Lunder,
Jeremy Renner, Aaron Ryder
Written by Robert D. Siegel
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman,
John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini,
Patrick Wilson, B. J. Novak, Laura Dern

 

Is there a sight more associated with America then two golden arches glowing neon yellow by the roadside? I would hazard that there is not.

McDonald’s is a brand that has reached global domination over the years, and is a true American success story of entrepreneurship.

But what of the journey from simple walk-up hamburger stand to multinational corporation?

Well, for every bright idea and dreamer, there is a shrewd and calculating businessman ready to turn their idea into something faster, flashier, and more profitable.

John Lee Hancock’s The Founder not only entertains, but also shows the contentious story of how one of our most familiar meal destinations grew to take over the country.

Rather than the McDonald brothers, the film’s focuses on Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the failing Illinois businessman who looked at the burger place and saw the future. While Mac and Dick McDonald (John Caroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) wished to focus on strict control and maintaining their high standards, Kroc was more ambitious and constantly pushed for the innovation and revenue streams that lead to the current McDonald’s model of business. His drive made the company what it is, while leaving behind the original owners of the concept.

The opening scene sets the audience up to understand Kroc right before he met the brothers: the quintessential down on his luck traveling salesman of the 50s. He attempts to sell a multi-milkshake maker to a drive-in owner using a pitch that may have read upbeat but is delivered with more than a tinge of desperation. Dejected and winless, he pours a drink back at the motel and listens to a motivational record about the unstoppable power of positivity and determination.

A call about a large order leads him from Illinois to San Bernardino California in order to see what is so special about this “McDonald’s” place. And here is where the movie briefly lays out the story of Mac and Dick MacDonald and the development of the “Speedee Service System” that allowed for quicker service and higher customer turnover, which the working model of a drive-in could not accomplish.

You may imagine that the story of the automation of fast food prep would be less engaging, but the amount of ingenuity and troubleshooting that went into it is nothing short of remarkable. To see it played out by Nick Offerman drawing and redrawing the most efficient kitchen layouts on a tennis court while choreographing a team of pantomiming fast food employees to find flaws and ways to increase productivity is biopic gold. And so is the hunger that Keaton displays so well in Kroc’s quest for dominance. The interactions between the two are some of the most charged moments of the movie.

Michael Keaton is one of the best actors out there and this film will be chalked in the success column.

He deftly portrays a man that could be on the edge of greatness but carries a bit of that sad sack persona with him. You find yourself both rooting for him to succeed as well as cringing at the ferocity and manner in which he pursues it. The movement from tragically pathetic to calculating charmer completely draws you in.

On the opposite end of his quest are Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch who never waiver from being honest and salt-of-the-earth American small business owners. Offerman plays to his usual strengths of gruff and terse delivery, but seeing him use these in a dramatic role rather than comedic is refreshing and fits well. It provides a great balance to Lynch’s gentle “it’ll all work out in the end” persona. There is no point when the audience would not be enamored with the struggle of the brothers to standup to the steamrolling Kroc without stooping to his level.

The most interesting aspect of the film is not so much the story of franchising and how McDonald’s came about – which is a strong statement as the knowledge imparted is engrossing – as much as it plays out as a cautionary tale of capitalism swallowing the ideals of the small business man and greed masquerading as progress.

Some may leave the theater seeing it as a redemption story, but others will not be able to separate that the same redemption was built on the backs of others’ dreams. The Founder will be on your mind every time you pass one of those ubiquitous glowing beacons of our country, forcing us to think a bit more critically about both the American inventiveness and the equally American deviousness it took to serve those billions of burgers.

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