You like McDonalds. Deal with it. Yes you may say the food is poor quality and you reckon that despite all the advertisements telling you contrary that the chicken nuggets are made from the giblets and whatever else they find on the abattoir floor, but you still go. The fries just scratch and itch and you all have to admit that the chicken selects are simply fantastic. But for a fast food chain that is so dominant around the world, there must be an interesting story behind it. And luckily for us, we get to see that story in The Founder.
Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton, Birdman) is a down on his luck salesman who seems not to get any luck with the goods he is trying to hawk. However when he gets a shock mass order from a restaurant from McDonalds, he heads to California to see what the hell is going on. He then discovers this revolutionary restaurant which vows to give you your food in the shortest amount of time possible. Realising how great this is, he eventually gets the owners to agree to allow him to franchise it and take McDonalds nationwide.
What Founder does really well is create the setting where McDonalds is a massive revolution and make you realise why it became so popular so quickly. Early on, Kroc is frustrated by a drive-in restaurant which takes over 2o minutes to get him his order, something that is a bit odd for us modern folk used to the quick service that fast food restaurants now offer. But that makes us realise what the genius of this idea was. Yes, we do take it for granted that we can now go to a million different places that can give us something tasty in the blink of an eye, but this movie makes that seem like the most shocking and brilliant thing in the world. That’s testament to a movie that can you drag you back to another era, something helped by the brilliant production design.
Of course, The Founder isn’t just the runaway success of McDonalds. That would be rather boring to watch because it just be a movie where we see a lot of good things happen. It’s the bad stuff and how the characters respond to it which make films interesting and here that’s the transformation of Ray Kroc. At the start of the film you feel sorry for him, a guy just trying to do his best to make the best of the situation he is in. When he becomes frustrated at the way the McDonalds are stopping him to change to certain things in his aim to franchise it, you are on his side. But then he so subtly changes throughout the movie into someone willing to exploit the original owners and do some pretty heinous things to help grow the business and grow his wallet. It’s fantastically done and much better than the rapid character changes some films do to try and make their point.
And to be quite honest, this is where Keaton excels. He is a great actor, and thank god Birdman brought him back into the public consciousness, but his wheelhouse is shady guys and this is the shadiest of guys. He’s got bags of charisma which brings you into the character and even when he does become pretty evil by the end, you are still glued to the screen and sort of willing him to succeed. It’s amazing that he wasn’t successful as a salesman as I’m pretty sure that a Dubai billionaire would buy a tonne of sand from him with how charming he is. It may be the case that Keaton is too good at the role then.
But I should give credit to the other people involved in this film as it isn’t just a Keaton starring vehicle, though it is pretty close to one. I haven’t had a chance to see Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), who plays Dick McDonald, in a serious role before but he is just as good at it as he is at comedy. He does bring some humour to the role, but he is best at being this fast food genius who is the only guy wary of Kroc. It’s a bit tedious to begin with but when you realise he’s right, you do get to really appreciate his performance and why he was so protective of the brand to begin with.
The only real problem with The Founder is the middle third is a bit dull, with not much happening in it. This is where McDonalds gets bigger and bigger, but instead of hitting Kroc with a major problem to keep us engaged throughout this part, he gets hit with a lot of minor issues which usually get sorted in the next scene. Poor franchisees which are letting the quality of the restaurant down and not abiding by the founding principles? Solved in the next scene. A set up scene where Kroc uses his house as collateral for the business which almost comes to roost? Solved in the next scene? It does give Kroc a lot of momentum where it doesn’t feel like it could be stopped, but it means that middle third does sag.
The Founder does what all great biopics do. It takes a potentially interesting story, the creation of one of the best known restaurants in the world, and makes it into something so fascinating that you have to go out and find more about it. I want to watch actual documentaries on this story and discover all I can about how this burger stop in San Bernardino became one of the most dominant businesses into the world. This movie brings that all to life in a brilliant way thanks to its great performances and I now want to know the origins of all the fast food chains. Now who would be a brilliant Colonel Sanders…