The Founder – Movie Review

If there’s an American out there that has never eaten anything from McDonald’s, I like to meet that person and call them a liar to their face cause I highly doubt such a person exists. It’s honestly hard to imagine modern life with out seeing those Golden Arches every few miles along the highway on road trips or not giving in to the craving for an Egg McMuffin and a hash brown when you decide you “got stuck in traffic” on the way to work.  McDonald’s is everywhere. Hell, I can see one from my kitchen window (and yes, that has led to a few less dinners cooked at home).  But America’s most prolific fast food chain wasn’t always on every corner and that’s what The Founder is all about.

The Founder follows Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a travelling salesman currently trying to sell multi-mixers to restaurants for them to make milkshakes with and having zero success.  Then he get’s a call from his home office and finds out someone ordered six multi-mixers. So he calls the restaurant to clear up what must surely be a mistake and they end up upping their order to eight mixers.  Intrigued, Kroc travels out to San Bernardino to see what’s going on at this restaurant.  Upon arriving, he is flabbergasted at the immediacy of the service he receives, with the way that you order, where and how you eat your food, and just everything about this burger joint which was, of course, the very first McDonald’s. Absolutely blown away by what was going on, Ray gets the restaurant owners, Dick and Mac McDonald, to give him a tour and then Ray takes them out to dinner to hear their story. What follows is both the astounding story of the birth of an American institution and a cautionary tale of being careful who you do business with.

Michael Keaton is astounding as Ray Kroc.  I feel like we’ve been witnessing a career resurgence for Keaton starting in 2014 with Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), then Spotlight in 2015, followed by The Founder in 2016, and this year with Spider-Man: Homecoming and American Assassin to come in September. Keaton was (and still probably is) my favorite Batman growing up and it’s great to see him getting amazing roles of late and this one is most definitely amazing. As Ray Kroc, salesman extraordinaire, Keaton is every bit the smarmy, sleazy businessman I expect the real Ray Kroc to have been knowing the things he did.  At the beginning of this film, you start to feel bad for the guy cause he couldn’t sell a glass of water to a man on fire but then as the film progresses, you start to see him for what he really is and begin to feel bad for the people he screws over instead of feeling sorry for him.  Even if you don’t know how the story ends, you can feel it coming and you will want to scream at your TV for the McDonald brothers not to get into bed with Kroc.

Speaking of the McDonald brothers, they are excellently cast as well.  Dick McDonald is played by Nick Offerman, Ron Swanson himself, and Mac McDonald is played by John Carroll Lynch, that guy you know from that other movie (that’s honestly the best way to describe him and if you know who I’m talking about then you know it fits perfectly). Both of these fine actors do a great job of bringing these brothers to life on screen.  Dick McDonald is the more business like and more efficiency focused brother and that fits Nick Offerman’s skills as an actor to a T.  For Mac McDonald, John Carroll Lynch does what he does best – imbues his character with warmth and charm and for Mac, that’s exactly what’s needed.  Mac is the more compassionate, reassuring brother which serves as a great foil for Dick.

Plot wise, The Founder is honestly a bit sad.  Early on in the movie as we see Ray struggling then we see him collide with the McDonald brothers and start to see their partnership forming. Then Ray begins to overstep his bounds a bit. Then a bit more and then a lot more and when the movie ends, you feel a little bit guilty for all the times you’ve enjoyed a Big Mac or some McNuggets because you see just how badly the real originators of McDonald’s got screwed over.

Now I can’t finish this review with out mentioning my favorite scene in the entire movie – the tennis court scene.  That might come across as a weird scene to peg as your favorite but for me, it absolutely is.  I’ve mentioned before that I am an engineer by trade, an industrial engineer to be specific, and the best description of an industrial engineer is that we “make processes better”.  So as an IE, seeing these two brothers take their entire staff out to a tennis court, draw out several variations of the layout of their kitchen, and then role play working through a shift to get everything just right was absolutely fascinating. I loved it. It’s industrial engineering at its finest.  I liked it so much, I found that clip on YouTube and sent it to my old college engineering department.  That’s right kids, I’m not just a big fat Whovian and movie nerd, I’m also an engineering geek.

This was a really good movie that I had some fun with but is overall serves as something of a downer knowing the true (“based on a true story” true anyway) story behind the Golden Arches that we all know and love.

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