By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The world can either love McDonald’s or hate this fast food franchise chain even more after watching The Founder.
Myself, I find myself in the position of thinking this company had a huge share of problems when Ray Kroc was in charge during this company’s heydays. The fictional version is wonderfully and perfectly played by Michael Keaton. He oozes sleaze and I kept on being reminded of Donald Trump. When Kroc saw the potential of what Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald — the true innovators — tiny operation could do: to provide fast food in a timely and tasty manner. Their expertise set the standards other operations now imitate and nobody can patent the assembly line process (If they could, I’m sure they’d be raking in the dough). Instead of having an expansive menu, they provided the basics and the people of San Bernardino, California loved it.
Kroc was a struggling travelling salesman working for a manufacturer of kitchen aids, Prince Castle. As the story introduces him trying to sell milkshake makers that can churn out eight of them at a time, nobody was interested. His shtick was to show them how progress has to be handled through efficiency. But his snide tactics had many a restaurateur closing the door on him. When a large order came from the McDonald’s operation, he drove all the way from Illinois (using route 66) to see what’s up. When he got there, he saw the potential of how the brother’s operation can become nation-wide.
As for whether they got snookered by the con-man, that’s hard to say. They knew Kroc for what he is and hoped they could keep him on a leash with a binding contract where they have final say over what can be done under their family business’ name. As most historians know, Kroc bought them out. If only the brothers had more gumption and had witnesses to their behind-the-scenes deal, their family estates would be bursting at the seams because of how large this corporation grew. At least this film nicely reveals Dick and Mac deserve just as much credit as Kroc. Without the three, the go-to place for folks wanting their fast food fix might be Wendy’s or Carl’s Jr. I’m an A&W guy myself because of their root beer, and will not touch McD’s foods at all (their movie tie-in Happy Meal toys is a different matter).
The story of their battle only makes up for a quarter pound of the film. Much of the tale is about Kroc’s rise to become the force that shaped the corporation and his obstacles. From a maligned marriage (which could have been better explored) to getting his way with the people buying franchise licenses (not every franchise operator properly understood Kroc’s vision fully), this film is certainly about the American Dream being fulfilled the ugliest way possible. This film shows how Corporate America is a dog eat dog world, and Kroc is a shining example since he’s willing to drown out the competition. He admits to it in Robert D. Siegel’s screenplay, and at the same time “said” there was something special about the name that speaks to the entire nation to come dine here. These nuances make the historical look back work.
While the brothers were content to simply have a part of the state for themselves to be successful in, Kroc was eying the world like Megatron in Transformers. It’s not so much about ruling with an iron fist, but instead in how far an empire can grow before it crumbles.
On the bright side of a seemingly dark tale is a shining light in a supporting character of Joan (Linda Cardellini). While she is technically a shrewd businesswoman in her own sense, her growing relationship and influence upon Kroc were never looked at in this film. I had to wonder if her previous husband even recognized the “cheating” going on. She recommended ditching the use of real dairy for a fake product, and that alone plants the a seed of doubt in how the modern McDonalds operate. What are they cost-cutting to sacrifice authenticity? The brothers operation prided themselves with using real products. Kroc was convinced to cut corners by introducing de-hydrated / imitation products. While I can not speak for what kind of current practices are going on, I can at least say the current operation’s expansion of allowing customers to customize their burgers now with those self-ordering kiosks goes against the spirit of the McDonald’s brothers vision as this film has shown.
The film does get one ideal right and it’s in line with the spirit of the 50’s teenage culture. There was a segment of the public who wanted a hangout spot. Even though those early MacDonalds were all about take-out, people were still lingering near the vicinity of the operations. Kroc missed out in understanding what made these diners successful. An eat-in area would later be brought back into the next design of the outlets. I love the 70’s television sitcom Happy Days because Richie, Fonzie and gang had Arnold’s Restaurant. This operation had character with tables to carve your name on and a live band. If only more operated in real life. Also, the present McDonalds can’t offer what the TV show had, a happy-go-lucky Asian to go bwahaha. Can I fill in for that role?
3½ Stars out of 5