An entrepreneurial salesman turns a family owned burger stand into the world’s largest fast food chain in The Founder. Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a traveling milkshake machine salesman, who becomes curious when an unusually large order to made by a burger stand in San Bernardino, California. Travelling to the stand, Ray meats brother Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), who revolutionized a assembly line system of preparing burgers and fries, which allows people’s meals to be ready soon after they order.
Ray sees a business opportunity in this type of restaurant and asks the McDonald brothers permission to franchise out their fast food idea across the country. Despite a rocky start, McDonald’s quickly becomes one of the fastest growing restaurant chains. However, as the franchise grows, the McDonald brothers find themselves slowly becoming cut off.
There probably aren’t that many people around who haven’t gone to a McDonald’s restaurant at least once. Over the past six decades, this fast food franchise has grown to over 35,000 locations worldwide. It says a lot when I happened to see The Founder at a cinema that was walking distance from at least three McDonald’s restaurants.
In many ways, The Founder has an ironic title, since the story of McDonald’s rise is also a tale of capitalism at its worst. Even though Michael Keaton’s character of Ray Kroc is the protagonist of this film, he is for all intents and purposes the villain of this story. As the McDonald’s franchise becomes successful, Ray Kroc takes all the credit, while the true founders are left to become increasingly frustrated by the changes Ray Kroc makes to the chain, which includes founding an entirely independent company, in order to escape the contract he made with the brothers. If Ray Kroc’s shady ruthlessness isn’t enough, he is repeatedly seen neglected his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) and beginning flirtations with franchisee Rollie Smith’s (Patrick Wilson) wife Joan (Linda Cardellini).
However, just because Ray Kroc is a completely unsympathetic protagonist doesn’t mean The Founder isn’t a film worth seeing. It is interesting seeing the origin of fast food restaurants, which would take over “mom and pop” drive-thrus. That said, I do have to say that the burgers and fries at the the McDonald brother’s original stand, which eventually closed down after being unable to compete with the growing franchise, was probably a better quality than the very processed food that McDonald’s sells today.
If The Founder was made as a full-fledged fast food tragedy with the McDonald Brothers as the main protagonists, it would have been a much better film. However, it is still interesting to the history behind the world’s biggest fast food chain.