Directed by John Lee Hancock and written by Robert D. Siegel (â€śThe Wrestlerâ€ť, â€śBig Fanâ€ť), â€śThe Founderâ€ť suffers from a severe case of eating its cake and having it, tooâ€¦or in this case, eating a Big Mac and having it, too. In trying to present a warts-and-all portrait of Ray Kroc, the traveling salesman who stumbled into somebody elseâ€™s revolutionary idea and turned it into one of the worldâ€™s largest food empires, Hancock and Siegel fall into a trap of their own making. Instead of an exploration of how capitalism preys upon, exploits and even corrupts innovation, they have, with the complicit assistance of composer Carter Burwell, delivered an almost triumphant and celebratory portrait of ruthlessness. Yes, Kroc may be portrayed in the second half of the film as a heartless bastard but he is their heartless bastard.In a way, â€śThe Founderâ€ť is a companion piece to Hancockâ€™s previous film â€śSaving Mr. Banks,â€ť his fictionalized account of the clash between P.L. Travers, the author of the â€śMary Poppinsâ€ť series of books, and Walt Disney during the pre-production of the now iconic film (soon to be remade). Both films have as their protagonist men who perpetuated a homogenized, fantasy-driven, almost naĂŻve image of America where families of all colors and religious creed would congregate around a ride to discover the wonders of the world or under a pair of golden arches where they would pray at the altar of fatty burgers, salty fries and milkshakes made out of flavored powder and water with a â€śSponsored by Coca-Colaâ€ť sign thrown in for good measure. Both Disney and Kroc face creators who are overprotective of their creations. Ms. Travers may be a force of nature but Disney eventually seduces her with his Midwestern charm to let him have his way with Mary. Kroc (Michael Keaton), on the other hand, tramples over brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch), whom Siegel and Hancock portray as obtrusive perfectionists who stand in the way of progress.
"â€śWhat Ray Kroc Was Made Ofâ€¦â€ť"
We first meet Kroc on the road in the mid-1950s as he visits diner after diner in the Midwest and South, trying to convince their owners to buy one of his multi-spindle milkshake mixers, parroting the same spiel of supply and demand, chicken and eggs when, one day, his assistant tells him that a restaurant out in San Bernardino, California, has ordered six of the devices. And off this fervent follower of such early positive thinking hustlers like the fictional Charles Floyd Nelson (a character inspired by the likes of Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie) goes, driving from Missouri to California to find out who the hell wants this contraption in such large numbers. There he finds the Promised Land: McDonaldâ€™s, a restaurant unlike any other where, instead of waiting forever for your food, you receive it, warm and nicely wrapped, in thirty seconds.
Impressed by the operationâ€™s efficiency, Kroc invites the McDonald brothers to dinner where they tell him their story, a story about two entrepreneurs who tried everything, from owning a movie theater to running a hot dog stand, until, by trial and error, they came up with what they call the â€śSpeedee Service System.â€ť To see them, in a flashback, design and redesign their restaurantâ€™s floor plan with colored chalk on a tennis court while their employees dance around it is a wonder to behold. Itâ€™s a joyful celebration of American ingenuity. After hearing their tale, Kroc makes them an offer he believes they canâ€™t refuse: to let him franchise the hell out of their business. But the McDonaldâ€™s experience with franchising was a disaster; theyâ€™d much rather focus on quality over quantity. Undeterred, Kroc slowly chips at their defenses by, ultimately, appealing to their innate patriotism: â€śDo it for your country. Do it for America.â€ť
Contract in hand, one that apparently gives the McDonald brothers a say in every decision Kroc makes, Ray mortgages his home for a second time without the consent of wife Ethel (Laura Dern, wasted in a thankless role) and begins plans to open the first McDonaldâ€™s restaurant outside California in Des Plaines, Illinois. There is something remarkably quaint and touching in these scenes as Kroc takes a hands-on approach to the restaurantâ€™s operations from acknowledging employees by first name to cleaning the parking lot with broom and hose. Franchises begin to pop across the Midwest, some managed by a cross-section of ethnic America that would have made Disneyâ€™s vision of â€śItâ€™s a small world after allâ€ť proud. But even though the restaurants are popular and generating huge business, Kroc has yet to see a single profitable penny no thanks to the brothers naysaying (especially from the uber-protective Dick). And so, smiling that wolfish Jack Nicholson smile that has become one of Keatonâ€™s trademarks, Kroc prepares for a complete takeover of the company with the assistance of a former Tastee-Freeze executive, as Burwellâ€™s celebratory, epic score prods Kroc towards the ultimate betrayal, one that Hancock canâ€™t help but portray with awe.
Keaton understands Kroc far better than Hancock, his portrayal compensating for a directorialy ambivalent point of view. Keaton manages Krocâ€™s transformation from frustrated salesman and striver to hold-no-prisoners executive with equal amounts of subtlety and braggadocio. Here is a man who has little patience for fools and who can tap, and masterfully exploit, the dreams and aspirations of many. His eyes have the malicious and playful sparkle of a con artist. But Keaton also portrays Kroc as a man who enjoys his job, whose drive to perfection equals the McDonalds with the only difference that he thinks big. With their contrasting tempers â€”the more suspicious and distrustful Dick, the jovial and trusting Macâ€” Offerman (who, alongside J.K. Simmons, has turned into one of the most interesting and versatile character actors of the last decade) and Lynch complement each other the way brothers do, reading each otherâ€™s thought, ending each otherâ€™s sentences. Their fall, as they sign that final contract, is devastating as you realize that THEIR American dream has been betrayed and corrupted.There is no doubt that without Krocâ€™s vision, McDonaldâ€™s wouldnâ€™t be the multi-million dollar, world-dominating, diet-busting company it is today. It is a story full of meat that, thanks to the Keaton-Offerman-Lynch trifecta, achieves some degree of nuance. Their performances acknowledge the grey areas that Hancockâ€™s direction, Siegelâ€™s script and Burwellâ€™s tone-deaf score seem to overlook. â€śThe Founderâ€ť is a fascinating, if flawed, portrait of how business is done in America, of how corporate empires are born.
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originally posted: 01/20/17 06:59:43