Ray Kroc, the man who took a small restaurant called McDonald’s in 1954 and built it into the most successful fast food operation in the world. Despite the title, Kroc isn’t really the Founder of McDonald’s, it was started by McDonald brothers, Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) in San Bernardino, California however without Kroc the franchise would have never reached the heights that it did but he didn’t do it without some questionable ethics decisions. Which begs the question, How far would you go to achieve your dream?
Set in 1954, The Founder chronicles the life of Ray Kroc, a traveling salesman who is struggling to sell milkshake mixers to small businesses. Fed up with the business and poor service at drive-ins, Kroc is almost ready to give up until he receives an unusual order for 8 milkshake mixers. He travels to California where he discovers a small shop called McDonald’s, which can fulfill a full restaurant order in less than 30 seconds. Blown away, he talks the owners of the shop to start a franchise and open restaurants all over the US. Reluctant to go into business with him, the brothers make him sign a contract that states while Kroc is in charge of operations, all decisions regarding changes to the restaurant must be passed through them. This causes dissension between the business partners and leads to Kroc being forced into the decision to go into business for himself.
The two strongest elements of the film are the storytelling and the focus on business ethics. Many of you business major out there should love this film because this is very much a Pro-Capitalism film. Now some might find a problem with that (Bernie Sanders Voters) but the dilemmas of the film aren’t as simple as right vs wrong. Kroc had a grand vision for the franchise that wasn’t shared by the McDonald brothers when the venture began. The McDonalds brothers had a very ‘mom and pop’ vision for their business despite Kroc insisting that they were sitting on a goldmine. Kroc proceeded to take the financial risk in expanding the business and finding people to invest and manage the locations around the country. He was taking so much risk that his life was on the verge of falling apart.
Ray Kroc’s character is a polarizing one; most even consider him an Anti-Hero. While the story celebrates his persistence for success in the eyes of financial and marital troubles, many viewers will debate the film conclusion and how the McDonald brothers were treated towards the end. The McDonalds Brothers failed to confirm a handshake deal where they would see 1% of future profits for the company thus losing out of 100 million per year. However, the bros made tons of money from the West Coast while Kroc was doing the real work and taking the real risk. Perception is left for the viewers and I always liked movies like that which will allow the audience to decide and debate who they feel is in the right or wrong. Many people will come to their own conclusions for different reasons but a film that inspires debate after the fact is always a winner in my book.
The Founder isn’t a feel-good story as much as it is a hard line look at the American Dream. Michael Keaton puts out another stellar performance as Kroc, a man whose ambition has no line he won’t cross. Linda Cardellini has a small but memorable role as the future Mrs. Kroc and plays an important role in the turning point of the film. I enjoyed the story and the work of this great ensemble cast so much I didn’t give much weight to a few nitpicks I had. The Founder is a very strong and thought-provoking movie that gets a high recommendation from me in a rough start to 2017.
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