“McDonald’s is America,” says Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the man behind making McDonald’s an American institution, in “The Founder” — and for better or worse, he’s absolutely right.
The poster for the film has Keaton standing in the center of the iconic golden arches, which seem to sprout out of his back like great, colored wings. The film, however, explores how they are not necessarily the wings of an angel.
John Lee Hancock (known for “Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Blindside”) directs the new film, which chronicles the amazing true story of Kroc, a struggling Illinois salesman who discovers the exemplary and innovative, California-based McDonald’s Hamburgers in the summer of 1954.
The restaurant is the planned and perfected vision of Dick and Mac McDonald (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, respectively), a couple of ambitious New Hampshire brothers who came west to chase a dream. Kroc, whose personal life is just as rocky as his professional one (his wife, played brilliantly by Laura Dern, laments his constant absence on the road), discovers the successful burger joint as the result of a simple business transaction and falls immediately in love.
What follows is a corrosive and corrupted partnership, which results in Kroc stealing the restaurant and cheating the brothers out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Dern, Offerman, and Lynch are terrific in their supporting roles, but the film is about Keaton’s daring, driven, and deceitful anti-hero. He effects Kroc’s nasally, Midwestern accent which solidifies the cheap, salesman persona. The character seduces the audience from the start. He is charming, charismatic, funny, and just pathetic enough in his attempts to push his appliances on disinterested customers.
Rather than playing Kroc simply as a mustache-twirling villain, Keaton always grounds his character at the base of who he is: a salesman. The charm and likability comes out early, when it needs to, and then, once the guard is down, he reveals his true colors.
Keaton gets to the essence of the man and of the story. He isn’t all bad; he’s just an ambitious opportunist who happens to discover someone else’s good idea. When the McDonald brothers fail to see the success right in front of them, he takes it out of their hands and transforms it into the empire it was destined to be.
Decency aside, and knowing the colossal burger behemoth McDonald’s has become, it’s difficult to say that he was completely wrong.
Although Ray Kroc is at the center and Robert Siegel’s screenplay is telling the story from Kroc’s perspective, when the film ends, you can’t help but to think of the brothers, of their legacy, their creation — authentic and uncompromised — and what they didn’t receive as a result of essentially revolutionizing fast food.
We think of McDonald’s as the mecca of cheap, unhealthy food. However, in the beginning, it was the dream of two men to stick to their guns and create something they were proud of. But this is America, the land of opportunity. So, all it took to ruin their American dream was a clever man with a bigger one.