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McDonald's Became His Kind Of Place: The Founder
The Founder takes a look at a hamburger restaurant that grew into the world's largest fast food chain. The story begins in 1954, where Illinois salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) makes his rounds of the midwest, trying to convince restaurants to buy his multi-mix shake machines. After one fruitless day of travels, he checks in with his secretary, June Martino (Kate Kneeland). To his surprise, she tells him that a California restaurant has ordered six of them. When he confirms his purchase, the orderer, Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) decides he'd like eight instead. This inspires Ray to travel there and see that restaurant for himself. He makes the trek to San Bernadino and gets a guided tour from Dick's brother, Maurice "Mac" McDonald (John Carroll Lynch), accompanied by insight from Dick. Ray sees the crowds and the "Speedee Service" atmosphere the brothers created, and wants to be a McDonald's franchise owner. The brothers agree to this deal, in spite of Dick's misgivings about their few franchise outlets and the quality control they fail to have.
Dick sets up his restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois, and it becomes a success. Other friends of Ray's also get interested on his word, and they help to expand the McDonald's chain. Along the way, Ray meets a young employee named Fred Turner (Justin Randell Brooke), who eventually serves as a trusted aide in the midwest expansion. In Minnesota, he meets a musician named Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), who works at a restaurant owned by her husband Rollie (Patrick Wilson), who gets Ray's pitch. Although always more successful than not, Ray's wife Ethel (Laura Dern) wonders when Ray will be satisfied. While trying to keep up with his business payments, Ray meets Harry J. Sonneborn (B. J. Novak), who suggests Ray buy his restaurant land rather than lease it. Ray starts this new land company, which gets the attention of the McDonald brothers. This move and others start to put the brothers on the defensive.
Director John Lee Hancock has made some pleasing based-on-fact movies, such as The Rookie, Saving Mr. Banks, and perhaps most notably, The Blind Side. The Founder starts as a happy and pleasant outing, only to grow darker as viewers get to see how far Ray goes to get his way in his dealings with the McDonalds. A scene early in the movie, for example, of Ray in a hotel room, psyching himself up for another day of sales, gives an insight to Ray's mindset. The movie ends with a variation of that scene, set in 1970, as Ray is about to speak to Governor Reagan and the Governor's guests. The script from Robert D. Siegel, best known beforehand as the scriptwriter of the 2008 drama The Wrestler. He shows how Ray looked to stay involved with the restaurant chain while looking for a legal way to get the upper hand. I would like to have seen some of the narrative gaps filled a little more neatly. The movie, in spite of its change of tone, shows how Hancock works efficiently with human interest stories.
Keaton has enjoyed a bit of a career resurgence, especially with his appearances in the Oscar winning Best Pictures Birdman and Spotlight. While The Founder won't follow the lead of these outstanding works, Keaton works with a smile that only covers Ray's ambition so much. In an instant, he finds his life's work, even if it's somebody else's biggest achievement. Even as he struggles to show a bigger profit, he shows he's willing to experiment with cost cutting measures, such as powdered shake mix. Yet, Ray gets mad when other franchises under him vary from the McDonald's menu by adding fried chicken and corn. Many may have helped Ray grow the franchise, but only a few gain his trust. The best of the support comes from Offerman as the polite, but cynical, Dick. He never had the vision for McDonald's that Ray had, yet he doesn't mind an owner willing to comply with his and Mac's rules. His performance might lead some to wonder what might have happened if Dick himself had opened the first restaurants. Lynch is the more receptive brother as Mac, who learns that Ray is more persistent than he expected. Cardellini, Dern, and Novak also provide fine support in their limited screen times.
I've lived a life where McDonald's has grown from just a couple in the region to at least one in almost every community by me (and two in my city alone). The Founder takes a look at the man who made that expansion possible. The Founder also shows the ugly side of corporate America, especially when they find something they want. They may have big smiles and speak glowingly of a creation, but all the while, they want to reinvent it their way. By doing this, they can lay claim to being the founder, just as Ray Kroc did. The Founder is a tale of greed, and a man who learned how to take credit for the groundwork laid by others who lived much more contentedly than he.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Founder 3.5 stars. Fast food grows in Kroc's pot.