Perhaps no company in history is more vilified than McDonald’s. The master of cheap and convenient, an emblem of obesity and profitability, most would be surprised to learn that the story of the company is not a rosy rags-to-riches family-owned venture, but a tale of ruthless capitalism from the get-go. “The Founder” illustrates that story and its figurehead, Ray Kroc, the man who made an empire. Perhaps an evil empire.
Written by Robert Siegel and directed by John Lee Hancock, “The Founder” tells the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a hustler salesman who stumbles upon a new type of restaurant run by two brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch). They have designed a new, fast system of food service, where people walk up to the counter instead of wait for food to be brought to them in their car and an assembly-line crew prepares food with a smaller menu to increase efficiency. Intrigued by the idea and its potential, Kroc finagles a deal to become their head of franchising and begins to spread McDonalds throughout the country. As the race to get big ensues, Kroc comes to realize that it is the brothers who are in his way more than anything else, setting up a conflict that will leave only one of them with control of the company.
Michael Keaton is a very interesting, inviting actor and that plays to his advantage in the role of Kroc. Even though he appears crazy, you can’t help but be intrigued by him. Meanwhile, the McDonald brothers are rather pedestrian and boring. You feel for them, but kind of find them uninteresting, our sympathies transitioning to Kroc instead before the ending which reverses our emotions. In other words, perfect casting and writing by extension.
The conflict however could have been emphasized even more. For most of the film, Kroc and the McDonalds are in different states, talking on the phone. There’s little direct confrontation until the end, where the story really comes into focus.
And for Kroc, the choice to betray the McDonalds brothers is not really a choice: he’ll do whatever it takes to make the most money. He’s lacking that great moral dilemma that would make his choice interesting and give weight to the story.
What is interesting is seeing the lure of power and money and how it brings a man to betray others. It’s a story of the downfall of capitalism, how a system that values money above morals destroys relationships. It’s a very classic story that feels fitting in the modern age.