For most, McDonald’s is a household name, almost as American as cherry pie and baseball. Though we have all stopped by the drive-through at one point or another for a 10-piece chicken nugget and large fry, few of us probably know the story behind one of the most successful fast food companies in the world. “The Founder,” released last week, sheds some light on the surprisingly complicated history of the McDonald’s corporation.
Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a down-and-out salesman from Illinois unsuccessfully hocking his wares at every fast food joint in the area. While out on a sale, Kroc finds himself at the revolutionary McDonald’s—the first restaurant he has seen that does not deliver to your car or make you wait 20 minutes for your order.
The owners, the McDonald brothers, (John Carroll Lynch, Nick Offerman) take Kroc on a tour of their streamlined, family-friendly facilities, showing him the science behind the perfect burger joint. Kroc convinces the initially unwillingly brothers to franchise their restaurant and sets out on the road, planting new restaurants all over the Midwest.
His ambition eventually gets the best of him, and he starts to demand more than the McDonald brothers are willing to give. As the film progresses, Kroc starts to play dirty, eventually aiming to usurp the brothers from their humble operation and turn it into a worldwide enterprise.
As far as the plot goes, all of the main events are fairly true to reality. If you do not know anything about the history of McDonald’s, prepare to be surprised—the fast food industry gets cutthroat and vindictive. Though it starts small, the power-grabs by Kroc soon become unbelievable, but still true to the history of the corporation. It tells the tale of a struggle between genuinely good intentions and the bloodthirsty brawl for the American Dream.
Actor Michael Keaton performs the role of Kroc well, initially making you feel pity for him; a poor salesman in a seemingly unhappy marriage who cannot seem to catch a break. But as the film progresses, we see Keaton turn Kroc into an ambitious, power-hungry antagonist to the mild-mannered McDonald brothers. He is hardly recognizable as the same character by the end of the film and will certainly draw a fair amount of ire from the audience. Despite his controversial actions, Keaton still knows how to keep the audience captivated through his high energy, smooth talking and magnetic hunger for success.
The lighter performance of the McDonald brothers offers an effective balance to Kroc, though tragic it is to watch as you see the adverse effects of Kroc’s decision on the likeable brothers. Many will likely recognize Offerman, who plays the role of Dick McDonald, from the television show “Parks and Recreation,” where he played the role of Ron Swanson. Swanson is a distinctive character, and it can be hard to separate Offerman from that role, but in many ways, Dick echoes a lot of the same characteristics as Swanson—hardworking, blunt and determined. In comparison to Swanson, however, Dick McDonald can seem a little bland. Offerman still performs well in the role, but the character is not necessarily a riveting one.
Overall, “The Founder” was an interesting watch, but not necessarily one that I would seek out in the future. It certainly sheds light on a unique historical event but plays out a little too slow at times.