“The Founder” is a film that would be fairly mundane if not for an electric performance by Michael Keaton.
The film tells the story of how McDonald’s Corp. was transformed into the fast food monolith that exist today. McDonald’s undergoes the vast expansion because of Ray Kroc (Keaton) and his ability to do whatever it takes to be successful.
Overall, “The Founder” is a story of the American dream and how maliciousness can overtake someone blinded by ambition.
Kroc starts out as a milkshake mixer salesman and is a struggling businessman who copes with his failures through drinking and listening to self-help records. In the midst of his struggles, Kroc receives a call from a California burger joint asking for six of his mixers. Kroc cannot believe that a restaurant would need this many mixers, so he goes to see for himself the overwhelming success of the now famous restaurant, McDonald’s.
Upon seeing the thriving business, Kroc concocts a way to leech off of the McDonald’s brothers’ success by offering to franchise McDonald’s and open up new restaurants across the country. In his venture to gain success and affluence, Kroc sinks lower and lower to get what he wants.
In the end, Kroc cheats the McDonald’s brothers out of their rightful ownership by controlling the real estate that the restaurants are built on.
“The Founder” does a great job exploring the price of success and the American dream. Keaton plays the perfect “shark” doing whatever it takes to achieve success. What is so fascinating about Keaton’s performance of Kroc is how humanizing it is. Kroc struggles with his marriage, alcoholism and feelings of inadequacy, all the while working toward taking what belongs to someone else.
Perhaps the lowest point Kroc sinks to is when he is buying the McDonald brothers out of their stake in the company and agrees to give the brothers 1 percent of all annual profits for the rest of the company’s existence. Of course, Keaton coerces them into a handshake deal and the brothers have no written or legal proof that the deal ever happened. In the end, the brothers walk away with $1 million each after taxes in exchange for their business which now makes billions of dollars per year. That 1 percent today would translate to about $100 million per year.
Kroc walks away with the glory, the money and just about everything else that comes with being the founder of McDonalds, despite being portrayed as a bumbling businessman. It isn’t until Harry Sonneborn (BJ Novak) tells Ray that he should be focusing on the real estate aspect of the business, not the burger aspect, when Ray is able to seize control of McDonald’s. “The Founder” tells a story of a man who made almost all of his millions off of ruthlessness alone, while others helped guide McDonald’s to becoming the global force that it is today.
“The Founder” is playing at The Athena Cinema, with showtimes at 5:20, 7:35, and 9:45 daily with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:35.