Review: ‘The Founder’ exposes callous heart at beloved franchise’s centre Special

Posted Jan 21, 2017 by Sarah Gopaul
‘The Founder’ is the captivating and controversial origin story of the world’s most visited fast food restaurant, McDonald’s, in which Michael Keaton unsurprisingly excels as a ruthless man with big dreams.
Michael Keaton stars in  The Founder
Michael Keaton stars in 'The Founder'
Elevation Pictures
It’s likely the majority of success stories are relatively boring: they came up with an idea, launched it, improved it, expanded it and – boom – they’re rolling in cash. But there are some stories far more interesting than anyone could have imagined. After all, franchising a restaurant and opening locations across the country seems like an exceptional but rather straightforward process. Only the success of McDonald’s, it turns out, is a pretty sordid affair with a lot of subterfuge and outright deceit. The Founder chronicles the creation of the largest food chain in the world and it ain’t pretty.
Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a salesman falling on hard times. No one in the Midwest is interested in buying industrial milkshake mixers — but there are a couple of guys in California who can’t even be sure they’ve ordered enough of them. Curious about their operation, Ray jumps on Route 66 and pays the McDonald brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch), an unexpected visit. He arrives to a long line of customers picking up their own orders in paper bags from a walk-up window — an unknown concept in the age of drive-ins, carhops and window trays. After a few conversations with the brothers, Ray decides franchising their idea is his ticket to success. However, Ray is a man with big ideas and he eventually grows tired of working under the McDonalds’ constraints; so he decides to take full control of the business… by any means necessary.
The McDonald brothers created the fast food chain model most people are familiar with today. They perfected the design of the kitchen and placement of the workstations for maximum efficiency, as well as invented the idea of customers picking up their own food in disposable packaging. It was an inspired innovation that revolutionized the food industry and was very profitable. Dick was the idea man and older brother Mac supported him wholeheartedly. After failing to expand the pioneering restaurant themselves, they decided to simply be happy with their little shop. Then Ray came along and offered them the whole country — and they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. If they’d been different types of men, the money would’ve been enough to make them complacent; but they were passionate about their business and wanted to make sure every franchise lived up to their standards… and definitely no corner cutting. So eventually they started to regularly butt heads with Ray and he started looking for ways to get rid of them.
In case it hasn’t been made clear already, Ray is not a likeable guy. He’s charming and enthusiastic and makes everyone he’s talking to feel like the greatest person alive — but that’s the smarmy salesman in him. In most cases, he’s measuring your worth and how he may be able to use you in the future; or, slightly less detestable, simply trying to get you on his side. He’s smarter and crueller than he’d have anyone believe, but the audience can see his true colours before most thanks to director John Lee Hancock’s the less-than-subtle hints built into the narrative and filmmaking style. Keaton is also superb at portraying this two-faced character in a manner that causes audiences to be riveted by him rather than just wholly repulsed. His terrific performance is supported by those of his co-stars, including Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak and Patrick Wilson. Offerman and Lynch are especially good, immediately commanding the audience to their side and engulfing them in each disappointment and bad decision.
The contemptuousness of this story is staggering, but it certainly makes for a great film.
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch