Crosses, flags and golden arches. What do these icons have in common. They are the backbone of the cleverly crafted success story of the McDonald’s biopic, The Founder, directed by John Lee Hancock.
Based upon real events, Michael Keaton superbly leads as Ray Kroc, a 1950s frustrated yet persistent salesman with a strawberry milkshake grin, who stumbles upon a business opportunity that he smears with two slices of pickles and a dollop of irony, to sell the American dream. And sell he does.
He meets brothers Dick and Mac McDonald (compassionately performed by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), the original founders of a restaurant, simply enough called McDonald’s.
Kroc is so astonished at their small but successful fast food business, he benevolently corrodes their operation turning, it into an empire and himself into an iconic business mogul. His fortuitous ambition begins when the brothers naively reveal their ingenious store plan, with a walk-up service as the first of its kind, changing the speed of producing burgers from a 30-minute wait to a highly competitive 30 seconds.
The lucrative potential electrifies Kroc to enforce a slice of the brothers’ innovative business like the Big Bad Wolf to Red Riding Hood, as he forges a strained partnership the brothers will later regret. Kroc relentlessly champions new recruits to the franchise he sets up to launch McDonald’s from a small-time local success to a worldwide global phenomenon. As the inevitable conflict plays out against the vulnerable but controlling brothers, Kroc unashamedly unleashes upon the good-natured duo his ‘dog eat dog’ mentality. The takeover is unsettling and heartless, involving shrewd lawyers and even shrewder unethical deals, yet there is a compulsion with discovering the truth of the rise of an empire when unhinged innovative genius meets opportunity and incessant drive.
Director Hancock aesthetically captures a 1950s Happy Days-type nostalgia via retrograde icons, and while the cinematography isn’t what you will remember most about this film, it is the story of the toxic pursuit of the American dream and the unforgiving, persistent resilience of the price of entrepreneurship via the sassy perspective of a true capitalist.
Not only is there a perverse sympathy for the brothers in how Kroc ruefully claims their name but also for his emasculated, long-neglected wife, Ethel. Played by Laura Dern who is perfectly suited to portraying his demure, ever supportive yet tragic doormat housewife. Michael Keaton’s dynamic and conflictingly lovable turn as cunning opportunist exceeds the Arthur Miller-type sassy salesman to render any contempt in place of recognition of his hard work, persistence and ingenuity to take risks to grasp the American Dream. Kroc affirms, “America is based on crosses, flags and the golden arches of McDonald’s”: family, unity and prosperity, the dominant values America is founded on. Kroc’s compelling success is further realised due to his key epitome, that it’s all in the name. “Who would want to buy a burger from Krocs?”, he says, “when you can buy a burger from McDonald’s? It’s a good name.”
The Founder excels in catapulting capitalist entrepreneurship in a time when idealistic dreams are shattered in an unstable global economy and a time when the Donald Trumps of the world are wolves of economic gain. As far as success stories go this is a mighty fascinating one that simultaneously demands respect for corporate innovation and the balls to take that pipeline dream and turn it into a bigger superpower reality. One worth more money than any individual can dream of. Annette McCubbin
‘The Founder’ is in cinemas November 24.