Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carrol Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B. J.
Novak, Laura Dern
Director: John Lee Hancock
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: April 18, 2017
“Only in America!”
One of the crew members on the film The Founder described it as “Death of a Salesman with a happy ending”, while admitting that “happy ending” really depends on the point of view. After all, if you ask Gaston, Beauty and the Beast didn’t have a happy ending.
It’s a real life American dream story of one of the world’s most successful businesses and how it came to be, via an unlikely protagonist.
That man is Ray Kroc (Keaton), a 52-year-old milkshake machine salesman barely making ends meet, despite natural persistence and the support of his long-suffering wife (Dern).
His fortunes change when he gets a surprising order from a small San Bernandino restaurant: SIX of his mass-producing milkshake machines. Figuring he had to see this business for himself, he makes the trek.
The restaurant was called McDonald’s, founded by brothers Dick (Offerman) and Mac (Lynch). To Ray’s surprise, in an era where the drive-in was king, there were walk-up windows. Even more surprising is how fast his food got to him, and how good it tasted.
He meets the owners, and truly falls in love with the business and the idea of the business. McDonald’s becomes his obsession as he tries to talk the reluctant brothers into franchising. Their concern? Lack of ability to control quality in remote locations.
But soon a deal is made and Ray is pounding the pavement to find investors who are willing to open a McDonald’s…and most importantly, the brothers’ way. It doesn’t always go easy. Ray is appalled to find locations that aren’t clean, and serving whatever kind of food they want. Making matters worse, Ray’s contract is ensuring that neither he nor the franchisees are seeing a lot of money from the efforts…in fact, while McDonald’s is booming, thanks to Ray’s efforts, he’s having to take a second mortgage on his house, and comes close to losing everything.
Ray eventually finds some financial advice from a bank man named Harry J. Sonneborn (Novak), who tells Ray what he SHOULD be doing is buying the land where McDonald’s go up, thus providing him a steady stream of revenue from the leasing.
Ray’s passion also keeps him trying to improve upon the McDonald’s business model, but met with brick walls by the brothers every step of the way, who care more about preserving their vision than money. Ray has a contact, but soon, thanks to his real estate deals, has enough money to break it.
In the end, the McDonald’s brothers sell everything to Ray, and even lose the ability to call their own pioneering restaurant by their own name. Yes, if you want to see the first McDonald’s, it no longer exists…you’ll have to see the first franchise opened instead.
Are there good guys and bad guys? It’s a real life story, and like most things about life, it’s more gray than black and white. In the end, it may come down to the fact that Ray had a bigger passion for McDonald’s than even the brothers. It’s clear without Ray the world of fast food would have never been born…for better or worse.
Ray remained passionate his whole life…although not mentioned in the movie, he personally invented the Big Mac and the Egg McMuffin, and when retired, lived right across from one of his franchisees. The manager said it wasn’t uncommon to get a call from Ray at night to tell him he wasn’t cleaning his store the correct way.
This is a fascinating and truly American story, with Michael Keaton in fine form as the iconic man whose business cards really did just say “Founder”. The vision of two brothers plus one persistent, passionate businessman created a worldwide institution, and this movie tells the tale without judgment.
This is a beautiful looking period piece that really seems to get all the details right. Colors are bright and vibrant, and the food looks good enough to eat. Details are strong throughout, and images are crisp and clean with no bleeding.
This is mostly a dialogue-driven picture, but the balance is good; not a lot of use of surrounds but spoken words and music balance nicely to help craft the overall experience.
The only extras are a behind-the-scenes gallery and a press conference with cast and crew, plus a DVD and digital copy of the movie.
McDonald’s is just about the one thing that everyone in the world has heard of, and The Founder tells how it came to be. You deserve a break today to watch this fine film.