The Founder (2016)

  • Time: 115 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: John Lee Hancock
  • Cast: Michael Keaton, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch


The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers’ fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world.


  • A superb biopic that draws you in from its first moment and maintains its hold until the last frame, The Founder traces the rise and fall of the American Dream as embodied by the brothers McDonald and how that dream was unscrupulously usurped by Ray Kroc. The film applauds hard work and ingenuity, but it makes no bones about how those very attributes can result in success at the expense of others.

    “Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful men,” drones a voice from a motivational record. Fifty-two-year-old traveling salesman Ray (Michael Keaton) appears to be one of those men. Seen at the start plying his milkshake machines to yet another disinterested vendor, he drives from state to state, chasing potential leads, living out of his car, waiting in exasperation for his food at the local drive-ins and car hops, calling his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) from motels, and checking in on the home office to see if any more leads or orders have come in. It is during one such call to his bookkeeper June (Kate Kneeland) that he’s informed of an unusually large order. Thinking it a mistake, he calls the small diner that placed the order only to be told by one of the owners, Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman), that they want to increase the order.

    Intrigued, Ray decides to drive halfway across the country to visit this diner named McDonald’s. What he discovers is an operation that flabbergasts him with its speed and efficiency. What we now take for granted was indeed quite the revolutionary concept in 1954. Keaton’s flummoxed marvel as he’s handed his order mere seconds after paying for it is priceless. “Where’s the silverware? Where do I eat it?” he wonders. That’s part of the brilliance of McDonald’s – one can eat the food wherever they like and just get rid of the wrapper after they’re done. When co-owner Mac (John Carroll Lynch) gives Ray a tour of the streamlined assembly-line production that gets the burgers from grill to counter in 30 seconds, Ray gleans the profitability from franchising the operation.

    One of the best moments of the film occurs as Ray takes the brothers out to dinner to discover the origins of McDonald’s. The brothers fascinatingly recount how they started off as truck drivers at Columbia Studios before opening a movie theater that went bankrupt during the Great Crash of 1929. Their subsequent hot dog stand business eventually evolved into McDonald’s after the brothers tweaked the traditional business model by eliminating low-selling products to focus on delivering good quality food at a low cost. The sequence where Dick devises the design of the kitchen on a tennis court is contagiously rousing and beautiful to behold – he and Mac drilling their crew through practice runs, revising and re-designing, improving and refining until it does indeed become the “symphony of efficiency” that the brothers envisioned.

    Equally thrilling to witness is how Ray convinces the brothers, who have tried expanding before but decided against it as they couldn’t successfully enforce quality control on the other branches, to essentially entrust him with their dream so that he can turn it into a national franchise. The brothers reluctantly agree, provided Ray sign a contract that strictly stipulates that all business decisions must go through the brothers. Contract signed, Ray mortgages his home and scrambles for investors to build what he would eventually name “McDonald’s Number One.”

    It’s hard to begrudge Ray his ensuing megalomania even as one winces at the seemingly bottomless depth of his treachery and ruthlessness. This is a man after all who has spent his life losing and being mocked for his various schemes only to find himself triumphing and being heralded as the man behind the booming business. It’s hard to let go of the view once you reach the top and for Ray, who increasingly chafes at Dick’s rejection of each and every one of his suggestions to dramatically cut costs and increase profitability, there’s no other way to hold on to the empire he has built unless the brothers are out of the picture.

    Keaton continues his run of impressive performances as Ray. One can practically feel his soul rotting as his power and confidence increases. The menace that underlines the folksiness demonstrates that brutal violence can be dispensed not with bullets but with words and a mere handshake. And both Offerman and especially Lynch express with heartbreaking devastation how completely their dream has been taken from them.

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  • The Oscars have been announced, the cutoff date long past, but they still release movies every week anyway. The spring and summer have blockbusters. The fall has Oscar possibilities. The winter has easily forgotten, very little substance movies that don’t fit in any other categories. Then, there is the occasional movie that needed to be released some other time because it doesn’t belong in the winter. The Founder tells a story that has been around for a long time and the three main characters, Ray Kroc, Dick McDonald, and Mac McDonald, have been written so well and the actors playing them have done such a fine job that they should be nominated for Oscars next January.
    Screenwriter John Lee Hancock has written characters that are believable but the situations are a bit truncated to allow for as many developments as possible. This left me wondering how much time had passed occasionally and, surprisingly, it wasn’t as much as it seemed. Director John Lee Hancock keeps everything moving nicely but there aren’t many establishing shots to give us time and location.
    Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc who was not a nice person if someone or something was in the way of what he wanted. Keaton’s characterization gives us a man the who built McDonalds, constantly scrambling for the top and doing many not very nice things to get and stay there. McDonald’s was originally started as a single restaurant in California by the brothers Mac and Dick McDonald. What they did was create fast food. They had the whole process down and kept timing the kids who worked there to make sure it stayed at the level they wanted. Nick Offerman’s Dick is the one in charge, keeping everything in order and doing everything he can to keep the quality, cleanliness, and family atmosphere while keeping it fast and good. John Carol Lynch, playing Mac, is more laid back than his brother but when trouble comes they form a united front. Both these actors do a wonderful job and are the strongest performances in the movie which is saying something because of the strength of Keaton’s performance. The brothers had a short hand communication skill with each other that kept them on the same track.
    Also in the movie in supporting roles were Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, and Patrick Wilson, all doing good work.
    I give this movie 4 ½ condiment squirters out of 5. Let’s see if these performances, as good or better than others that have been nominated, get the attention they deserve next year.

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