Ray Kroc was a dirt-bag, and The Founder spends it’s entire time wrestling with whether they should portray him as one. The poster for this movie calls him a risk-taker and game-changer, when really he was a thief of both business ideas and women. This movie it at it’s best when it delves into how Kroc corrupted a surprisingly pure company with a get-rich-quick mentality that made McDonald’s the juggernaut it is today. 

    At least The Founder makes no attempt to act like McDonald’s was his idea. It actually was the idea of the eponymous brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch). These two created a fast food chain that doubled as human machinery, an efficient service that gives you your burger a second after you order it. This might be surprising, but they also cared about the food quality too. 

    All of this awes unsuccessful salesman Kroc (Michael Keaton), who only stumbles upon the business after the brother’s call, asking for eight of his milkshake machines (he drives cross-country struggling to sell one). Once there, he has the business equivalent of a come-to-Jesus moment (there’s even a scene where he stares at the golden arches like it’s a church). The efficiency, the clean environments, the delicious food all convince him that this is something that must go national.

    So he tries to convince Dick and Mac to try expanding his way (they already failed once on their own), and the shady stuff begins. The amusing/disturbing part about The Founder is that it justifies every poor decision Kroc makes throughout. Buying the land the restaurants are on to push out the brothers from their company? It’s because their original agreement doesn’t give him enough money. Going from shakes with real milk to lower quality powder? It saves money (and apparently gets Kroc a girl). Leaving his long-time wife for girl that introduced him to  the powered shake? It’s because she was boring and holding him back. Writing that just made me realize that I found (heh) all of those scenes compelling despite it making Kroc look like a fast food version of Donald Trump.

    Keaton deserves credit for keeping this story watchable. He has no concerns about trying to make Kroc likable to the audience, instead delivering a performance that’s persistent as a woodpecker. He gnaws at your screen with determination in everything he does. I don’t understand why this performance didn’t get more Oscar attention.    Lynch and Offerman are terrific as the moral center of a very screwed up story, so much so that I wish we saw more of them. The only character I had an issue with is Dern, who doesn’t so much give a bad performance as she does get screwed over by a script that doesn’t give her anything but look sad. There’s some real drama to the idea of a man falling out of love with his life, but The Founder is too focused on business to see it.

    The biggest flaw with this movie is that it goes a little too big when it should be subtle. Every “light-blub” moment that Kroc has is accompanied by a musical score that tells you what Kroc should be thinking There’s a lot of monologues here that really just explain where the plot should be going instead of, you know, actually doing it.

    I imagine some people that see this will say that it doesn’t go after Kroc enough, and I agree with that. You can see the moments (like when Kroc reigns on a handshake deal to give the brothers loyalties) where the scripted  wanted to condemn it’s main character, but it stops short every time. Was that the choice of the filmmakers, or due to some influence from McDonald’s? Who knows, but this movie almost made me grab a Big Mac on the way home, so it clearly had some effect on me. 

    But is it actually any good? It’s hard to describe a confused movie that can’t even decide if it’s hagiography or a takedown, but I’ll just say it’s much more fulfilling and worth your time than the business it profiles.

Published by Jagger Czajka