A fascinating study of the man who turned a small-scale hamburger joint into a $62 billion empire.
Every day, worldwide, McDonald’s feeds approximately 1% of the earth’s population.
Like a partially-digested chicken nugget entering your bloodstream, we’ll just let that sink in a moment.
The Founder, by writer Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler), tells the true story of Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer salesman from Illinois who in 1954 stumbled across an innovative hamburger joint run by the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and convinced them to franchise it into the 92nd largest economy in the world.
Again, just let it siiiiink on in.
Played magnificently by Michael Keaton, Kroc presents as a ruthless and relentless businessman for whom ‘no’ is just a soft yes waiting to be solidified. “Contracts are like hearts” he explains at one stage to the brothers, “…they’re meant to be broken”. And so it was that the McDonalds empire began to form, with or without the support of the two men from which everything was owed. It’s a fascinating, heartbreaking story to behold.
Offerman and Carroll Lynch are perfectly cast as the business savvy brothers whose love for each other and their steadfast belief in the importance of authenticity and quality (as opposed to quantity) seem at once admirable and naive - railing against the very ideas that would eventually turn each of them into multi-millionaires. That it’s not billionaires, however, is what forms the bulk of The Founder’s story, cataloguing the means by which Kroc manoeuvred himself into a position of unmatchable power over the pair via manipulative and underhanded (yet entirely legal) means. By the time ‘gentleman’s handshakes’ are being proposed, you already know how it’s going to end, just as you lament the feeling there’s nothing else they could have done anyway.
This is a slick production from top to bottom, beginning with Siegel’s superb script and its equal measure of laughs aloud and wince-inducing severity. The direction, too, by John Lee Hancock is impressively passive, allowing the performers and script to shine without embellishment. Keaton is again the standout performance in a field of outstanding actors, bringing a similar level of narcissistic selfishness to the role as seen in Birdman. His serpentine smile and darting eyes betray much of the Kroc personality before even the first words are spoken, and it would not be surprising to see his name again appear on the nominees roll for next year’s awards season.
In all, The Founder is an admirable piece of cinema that’s at once character study and history lesson, just as its lead offers an uncomfortable mix of bastardy and astounding foresight. You won’t like much about Ray Kroc by the end of this film, but you’ll be hard-pressed to deny his determination, business acumen or impact upon the world, in which, daily, 62 million customers enter the restaurants he essentially founded.
62 million customer. That’s more than the population of Great Britain. So yeah…just let that sink in.