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Movie Review: The Founder (of McDonald's)

Updated on February 8, 2017
Rafini profile image

Pop culture enthusiast and poet; Writer of non-fiction, personal essays and memoir.

The Golden Arches - A Familiar Sight

Based on a True Story

The Founder, released on January 20, 2017, is a powerful film based on the true story of Ray Kroc, The McDonald’s Corporation’s original CEO. Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, 2009) and written by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler, 2008 and Turbo, 2013), the film stars Michael Keaton and chronicles Kroc’s ambitious and ruthless determination to succeed. Beginning with Kroc’s misadventures as a traveling salesman, The Founder recounts, with a stunning brutality rarely acknowledged in connection with America’s favorite burger joint, one man’s journey from obscurity to leading the most recognizable fast food chain in the world.

How The First McDonald's Looked in 1954

Did You Know?

As many people already know, McDonald’s was originally a walk-up eatery owned by two brothers, named McDonald, in 1950’s San Bernardino, California. What a few more people already know is that Ray Kroc discovered these two brothers, and their successful restaurant, only because they happened to place a rather large order for the milkshake machine Kroc just happened to be selling at that time. As a small handful of documentary watching people already know, one thing led to another and eventually Kroc forced the two brothers, and their once successful eatery, out of business.

Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc

A Little Determination Goes a Long Way

When I first saw the previews for this film I was a little intrigued, and curious to know whether the rumors I’d heard throughout my life were true. I had seen the documentary, but still hadn’t been convinced that Kroc had done anything wrong - morally or legally. I also wondered how the somewhat already known founding of McDonald’s could possibly be interesting enough to sustain the attention of an entire theater audience for 90 – 120 minutes. The answers to my questions were revealed by way of the tight focus of this film on Kroc, his ambition, and his never-ending determination to succeed.

A Revolutionary Idea

My First Impressions

The first impression I had while watching this film was the subtle portrayal of 1950’s American innocence. Turned backs, bowed heads, and sitting next to strangers signified an open opportunity for an experienced conman. A sheltered housewife juxtaposed with husband and wife partnerships demonstrated a once common level of marital trust and security. And a financial deal sealed with a handshake indicated a belief, and expectation, that a man’s words were honorable. Remarkably suppressed throughout this film, while remaining historically accurate, is the restrictive fashions and limited availability of options. In other words, hairstyles, wardrobe choices and other manufactured items, such as vehicles and furniture, were insignificant in comparison to the overall tone and theme of this biographical pic.

The Golden Arches

Nonchalant Acceptance Equals a Determination to Succeed

As a film based on a true story, The Founder relies on the audience to interpret the apparently indifferent actions and words of the main characters as presented rather than presenting one-dimensional characters for the audience to accept. This reliance reminds me of Edward Scissorhands, where the underlying theme of isolation is apparent in Edward’s inability to communicate vocally. In The Founder, however, the main theme is one of greed in that Kroc is not content to simply own The McDonald’s Corporation, he also must destroy that which he feels is too threatening: McDonald’s in San Bernardino. While the tone is one of nonchalance, by way of Kroc’s determination to succeed in business, the secondary theme of acceptance, as indicated by the almost complete lack of opposition, implies good intentions from the main character toward his supposed antagonists – the McDonald brothers.

Michael Keaton as The Founder

I will never be able to get these images out of my head
I will never be able to get these images out of my head

After Viewing the Film

On my way home from the theater, I wondered why this film was made. What good does it do to get this story out into the world, now? The damage is already done. I also reflected on Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Ray Kroc. Although I am not a fan of Keaton (Beetlejuice is the only film of his I actually enjoyed) I must admit he provided an excellent, and authentic, representation of a man whose only fault appeared to be a lack of moral principles. Is this reason enough to vilify and criminalize his poor judgment and behavior toward the McDonald brothers who gave him the means to succeed? What could I possibly do with this information now that it was in my power to control? I began asking these questions as soon as the film credits rolled and the audience stood up to leave. Everyone, it seemed, was quite energetic and talkative.

What Do You Think?

Should The McDonald's Corporation be legally required to pay the McDonald family the 1% owed and promised?

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What Next?

Silently I wondered whether everyone in the audience had received the unintended message that in order to succeed, one must be as underhanded, conniving and ruthless as possible, or if they, like me, were making lifelong decisions to boycott any franchise which forced its originators out of business. As many of my readers know, I go to the movies almost weekly with my disabled adult son. He has Asperger’s and ADHD, and as a result does not often show his emotions or easily empathize with others. After the lights came on in the theater, I turned to him to see if he was ready to leave. For only the second time in his life, my twenty-seven-year old son was crying over the outcome of a movie. The first had been at the end of The Fox and the Hound, when he’d been four years old. As a McDonald’s employee of almost two years, he said he felt like quitting his job.

A First Hand Look at the Success of Ray Kroc

A Must-See Film?

As a biopic, I feel The Founder is a must-see film for all McDonald’s lovers of the world. Although this film doesn’t address the holy trinity juxtapositions of race, class, and gender, it does raise some very important questions regarding ethics and morality. I think everyone should see this film and decide for themselves whether they will continue to support the immoral actions of The McDonald’s Corporation’s first CEO or choose a more worthy cause to donate their hard earned expendable income.

© 2017 Rafini

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  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 8 months ago from Norfolk, England

    Interesting. I've yet to see this film, but sounds like something I would enjoy.