Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), after spending years as a frustrated, mediocre traveling salesman, has finally learned to take the things he desires for himself. Whether its the concept for a prosperous franchised fast-food empire or another man's wife, Ray has come into his own.
The beginning of "The Founder" has Ray hustling milkshake makers, traveling around the Midwest in his car. At night, alone in his motel room, he listens to a record espousing the tenets of positive thinking and accomplishment. When his ever-faithful secretary, June Martino (Kate Kneeland), informs him that a diner in San Bernardino, California has placed an order for six of his Prince Castle super duper milkshake machines, he's convinced it's a mistake. But when he contacts Maurice "Mac" McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) to confirm, the order is upped to eight.
Curiosity gets the best of Ray, so he drives to California to check out this unlikely diner, and finds instead a whole new way of selling hamburgers and fries --- the brainchild of Mac and Richard "Dick" McDonald (Nick Offerman). Ray immediately recognizes the golden opportunity these brothers possess, and devises a way to be part of it.
"The Founder" is a fascinating account of one of the largest worldwide companies in existence. Fueled by Keaton's outstanding performance, screenwriter Robert D. Siegel has penned an engrossing background story, that even if you know some of the details, it still rivets you to the screen. Kroc seems an unlikely candidate for this kind of success, but Keaton draws him out at a slow and meaningful pace.
Director John Lee Hancock, known for "The Blind Side" (2009) and "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013), has deftly captured the essence of small-town America, and Kroc's vision of American flags, church crosses and the Golden Arches of McDonald's. It is this vision which lures the McDonald brothers into their unfavorable deal with the devil.
Keaton isn't the only dynamic member of the cast, though his portrayal of Kroc should garner him an Oscar nod. Offerman and Lynch could not be better as the brothers devoted to one another. Ray had a habit of calling Dick, yelling at him then hanging up on him, and Offerman's reactions are priceless.
Kneeland's is another standout performance. It's a small role, but nonetheless pivotal. She's Ray's buffer and protector, culminating in real-life profits for Martino. Laura Dern, who plays Ray's first wife Ethel, is disappointing. Linda Cardellini, who becomes Ray's second wife and partner in McDonald's Corporation, more than makes up for Dern's lackluster turn. Blonde Cardellini pops off the screen, highlighting every scene in which she appears.
"The Founder" is solid moviemaking about the American dream. And the fact at the end of the film which states that McDonald's --- on any given day --- feeds one per cent of the world's population is astounding.
Opinion: See It Now!
Forget everything you thought you knew about Ray Kroc and McDonald's. Director John Lee Hancock's new film "The Founder" will dispel any misconceptions about how the 15-cent hamburger became a world-wide sensation.
First and foremost in this movie is a career-best performance from Michael Keaton as Kroc. Keaton surpasses his Oscar-nominated turn in "Birdman" (2014) and his superb characterization of newspaper editor Walter "Robby" Robinson in "Spotlight". I can't think of any other actor more perfectly suited to this role.
From the opening scenes, when a struggling salesman named Ray Kroc can't sell a Multi-Mixer (for milkshakes) to save his soul, we're hooked. It's 1954, and Kroc fruitlessly motors around the country in his pale blue Plymouth, further alienating himself from his wife, Ethel (the always dependable Laura Dern). But he catches the break of his life when the owners of a small restaurant in San Bernardino, California order six of his new-fangled machines.
He ultimately visits the McDonald brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch), at their eatery, and watches with eye-popping amazement their rapid-fire system of making and serving hamburgers and fries. One thing leads to another --- a contract is signed, and the high-octane Kroc envisions a future of hamburger franchises the brothers can't even imagine, which leads to great turmoil among the business partners.
Hancock ("The Blind Side") and writer Robert D. Siegel ("The Wrestler") have fashioned a hugely entertaining picture that could net Keaton his second Oscar nomination. Lynch and Offerman are superb, with Offerman proving he can handle a dramatic role as well as any actor labeled primarily as a comedian.
American capitalism is on display in "The Founder". Kroc represents the dog-eat-dog world of business while the McDonald brothers are essentially small-town proprietors with conservative business acumen. At one point, Kroc heatedly tells them if his enemy were drowning, he would shove a hose down his throat. Mac, at the other end of the phone, resignedly admits they couldn't do that, nor would they want to.
Every ambitious McDonald's employee should see "The Founder". As portrayed in the film, one of Kroc's early burger flippers, Fred Turner (Justin Randell Brooke), actually rises through the McDonald's ranks to become Chairman and CEO. For his own inspiration, Kroc listened to 78 rpm records entitled "The Power of Positivity", using the main philosophies of "persistence" and "determination" in motivational speeches to potential franchise investors. These speeches are a virtual showcase for film editing, depicting Kroc at various times delivering his message in machine-gun fashion.
Patrick Wilson and Linda Cardellini portray Rollie and Joan Smith. He's a restaurant owner/McDonald's investor, while she sings and plays the piano in his establishment. She's also a fetching blonde who catches Ray Kroc's eye. One of the more memorable moments of "The Founder" has Ray and Joan teaming up extemporaneously to sing and play "Pennies From Heaven". She also discovers a money-saving way to make chocolate and vanilla milk shakes, sans ice cream and milk.
Like so many movies "based on a true story", the closing credits for "The Founder" include photos and videos of the actual principals, and amazing factoids such as McDonald's of today feeding one per cent of the world's population every day!
Whatever you may think of the fast food industry --- even if you happen to be that rare individual who has never set foot inside a McDonald's --- "The Founder" is essential movie viewing. It makes no missteps, and is one of the year's best films.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!