The Founder – 2016
Director John Lee Hancock
Screenplay by Robert D. Siegel
Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B. J. Novak, Laura Dern
If someone ever wanted to know exactly how it was two brothers making burgers in a humbly magnificent San Bernardino restaurant translated to the world’s most well known restaurant, this comes pretty close. It definitely piqued my interest, and then held it for its entire running time. Then, like the fast food itself, left me wanting more.
Ray Kroc (Keaton) is a miserable travelling salesman who constantly feeds himself motivational information as he goes from town to town pushing milkshake mixers. After getting a large order, he investigates the company. He discovers Dick and Mac McDonald (Lynch and Offerman), who have fashioned an incredibly efficient method for pushing out a simple menu at a profit. After some back and forth, he gets them to agree on the concept of franchising.
Success does not come instantly for Kroc in his venture. The brothers, especially Mac, are resistant to changes to their formula. In fact, they say no to just about everything. Kroc perseveres through a willingness to change, force of his own will and a fortuitous meeting or two. Two things Hancock and Siegel make sure of in this version of the story is that the success is definitely his, along with the sins.
The structure of the story at first is extremely compelling. Keaton, Lynch and Offerman do a great job of representing their respective viewpoints. We also get a passing view of Ray and his first wife, Ethel (Dern) as they (mostly she) struggle to keep the relationship together. Once we see Linda Cardellini as Joan, it’s pretty clear that this won’t happen.
Things really start picking up when he is overheard at a bank by Harry Sonneborn (Novak). Once Harry is in Ray’s ear, we see how all of his truly ambitious work can be made into a truly unique American success story.
At different points in life, I may have experienced this movie differently. At this point, I think I see it as the director and writer may have intended. Ray was not a really nice guy, but the McDonald brothers did not really lose anything by partnering with him. They were playing two different games. What’s equally amazing is considering the fact that Kroc didn’t even meet the brothers until late in his floundering career. It’s truly an amazing story from that perspective.
Just at the pinnacle of Kroc’s success, the story immediately gives out. We hear nothing of substance in the company’s growth to a worldwide phenomenon. In this manner, the makers were staying in the bounds of their story, that being the contrast between the low-key brothers and the higher energy businessman that ran away with their name and their formula for fast food.
I wish they could have stretched this out to perhaps another film or at least another hour, beyond the reach they allowed themselves. In this way, the movie feels a lot like that restaurant in San Bernardino. It’s fine start, but this story is worth a franchise.
(**** out of *****)