The Founder is the story of McDonald’s...
What was once a small business cultivated over 30 years by Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald became a multi-million dollar franchise with the vision of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton). Kroc is a down on his luck salesman with ideas that just don’t seem to catch on. He becomes enamored with the brother’s burger stand and wants to franchise it. The brothers are hesitant, especially Dick, because they have standards for their burgers and it is their name on the product.
As the story goes on you see the compromises that must be made in order for the expanded businesses to thrive. One of the major points of contention is the costs of refrigeration for the ice cream for the milkshakes and so they want to use insta-mix milk shakes. Dick is opposed to this and says what’s next frozen fries. Which of course, McDonald's will eventually have. The two brothers are eventually taken over by the machine that is the McDonald’s corporation that leases land for the businesses therefore having all of the power. Dick refers to Kroc as the wolf in the hen house and Kroc eventually refers himself as the founder of the first McDonald’s. History will ultimately decide which is true.
Along the way, Kroc divorces his long suffering wife played by Laura Dern and steals away his new wife played by the younger Linda Cardellini from a franchisee. Joan (Cardellini) went on to do lots of work with the Salvation Army and had a lot of ideas about the business. Whereas (Dern’s) Ethel was more interested in a quieter existence. She didn’t dream big enough for Kroc.
It’s hard to have a good feeling when watching this film because the reality is that Kroc took the existing ideas of somebody else; then, capitalized on these ideas; finally, ultimately screwing over his own partners on his road to success. He was a ruthless business man, but has in reality created one of the most successful businesses in the world. Keaton’s portrayal of Kroc makes you understand his point of view and at times even root for him through strong performance. However, rooting for Kroc gives you a stomach ache akin to eating at a current McDonald’s.
If you live on the West Coast you are familiar with the chain In and Out which has a limited menu, fresh ingredients, and fast service. People line up down the block in order to go these burger stands. This was the original intention of the McDonald brothers. As a viewer you know what Kroc was bastardizing this vision into and what it will ultimately become. McDonald’s is a place that barely even serves actual food anymore and to see it’s humble beginnings makes you wonder if he did the right thing. Sure, he ended up employing thousands and made lots of money. Even gave a large chunk of that money to charity. But he took someone else’s dream and turned into his own at the expense of the first idea.
The film however, doesn’t go into the McDonalds that we know today. How most of us grew up begging for that Happy Meal so we could get a cheap plastic toy along with our cheeseburger and fries. How they expanded the menu from the original idea. It tells you how it went from a simple idea to a marketed one. How one man’s persistence (the mantra of the film) led to success. WIth no consideration for the lives and people that were left in his wake. It doesn’t make a hero of him and it doesn’t make the McDonalds martyrs, but it does leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s certainly puts the notion of capitalism on trial.
The notion of capitalism is what the McDonalds brothers had. A small business built up over time with hard work that makes a profit. What capitalism has become is possible because man like Kroc take a simple business idea and turn it into a juggernaut. Along the way compromising the original ideals and model in order to make as much money as possible and get as much power within the company as possible no matter what the original contracts say. While capitalism isn’t inherently evil this movie does put the realities of the system on trial.
I am on a mission to see if the movies that are “Popular on Netflix” are actually any good or if those are the ones that simply paid more for marketing.