Pick of the Week: The Founder
Michael Keaton shines as the slick talking salesman Ray Kroc, who created the multi-billion dollar global fast food empire, McDonald's in The Founder. The film essays the early years of the giant corporation as a local business in California and Kroc's subsequent take over of it.
The Founder (Dir. John Lee Hancock) chronicles the life of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), an ambitious milkshake machine salesman from Arlington, Illinois and brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald, the original founders of the ‘fast-service family-friendly restaurant’ in California, which Kroc turned into the giant corporation whose Golden Arches are today synonymous with America and globalisation.
The biographical status of this film is it’s primary USP because in this case, reality was just more epic, if not stranger, than fiction. If we watch films, or consume any kind of art because it shocks us, breaks our stupor, or makes us wonder about anything at all, then The Founder does that and then some more. It begins with a seemingly ordinary man who achieves something extraordinary, through means that although questionable, are not sentenced to a morality check by the film. And how could it? It is a biography after all, the fate of the characters has been written and lived as one of the greatest American success stories of the 90’s. In keeping with its adherence to ‘objective’ storytelling, the film can at time have a documentary style feel, especially with Kroc's epic fourth-wall breaking opening monologue setting the scene. Nick Offerman as the stiff and stubborn Richard McDonald who has been swindled off years of hard work and even his very own name, is an excellent contrast to Keaton’s razor sharp portrayal of Kroc as a cold but smooth and affable businessman.
The two characters raise a very interesting point of conflict in the film; the two sides of Ambition. On one side, Ray was bending over backwards to realise his vision of McDonalds, which is vast and expansive while on the other, the two brothers are uneasy as they feel they have already realised their true vision with the original restaurant. One person’s ambition is another’s greed, and one person’s contentment is another’s complacency. This can be unsettling and even jarring for some to watch as you are reminded of the fact that this is based on a true story. The film is also starkly clear in its depiction of how the lines between greed and individualism often get blurred in a ‘survival of the fittest’ economic structure - it lays it all bare, making the human story behind the film that much more fascinating and relevant today, as we grapple with the environmental, equitable and mental health repercussions of capitalist consumerism.
The film can feel a little stretched out by the second half, as the progression is slow but steadily paced. Since it’s based on real incidents, the story may be also familiar to a lot of people. Various scenes feel repetitive and some scenes can feel anticlimactic. You expect a deeper, emotional exchange between the characters but often, all you get is a high powered sales pitch which feels like it’s not rounded off enough. Nevertheless, The Founder is one of the most interesting and relevant tales of our time. It’s the kind of story that can be diluted into a children’s bedtime story and tweaked to suit whichever moral you wish to preach; ‘Be happy with what you have’ or ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and so on, and may just be the origin of a new range of children’s stories appropriate for wherever our collective conscience lies in the 21st century.
Now streaming on Netflix.
John Lee Hancock was born on December 15, 1956 in Longview, Texas, USA. He is an American writer and film director, best known for The Blind Side (2009), Saving Mr. Banks (2013) and The Highwaymen (2019).