ReelBob: ‘The Founder’
By Bob Bloom
View “The Founder” as a corporate cautionary Frankenstein story.
An unsuccessful milk shake machine salesman stumbles upon a unique, very successful fast-food restaurant in a California town, worms his way into the confidence of the two brothers who own the place and convinces them to allow him to franchise their concept.
The fast-talking salesman’s name is Ray Kroc and the brothers are Dick and Mac McDonald.
Their modest joint is called McDonald’s.
The assembly-line structure the brothers developed to make hamburgers quickly and cheaply so impressed Kroc that he immediately saw the nationwide potential of the streamlined system.
Like a virus, Kroc slowly devours his partners, making changes to their concept, to which they object but are powerless to stop.
Kroc steadily takes over the new corporation, selling many franchises of his own and getting richer with every one, while sacrificing the McDonalds’ values about quality and care.
“The Founder” belongs to Michael Keaton who gives a driven and dark performance as Kroc, who is willing to throw anyone — and everyone — under the bus on his ruthless climb to success.
He is not an evil person. He’s simply a snake-oil salesman, a charmer who relies on personality rather than hard work to advance himself.
Consider “The Founder” the business equivalent of “All About Eve,” if you will. A nobody works his charms on successful people, uses them, then dumps them when it suits his needs and purposes.
And, for Kroc, that also includes his long-suffering and supportive wife, played by a sympathetic Laura Dern.
Kroc discards people as easily as a used tissue — without remorse or regret. Creating and running a profitable corporation is his goal, and he does not care who he needs to step on to reach the top.
To his credit, Keaton does not portray Kroc as a villain. He sees him as a man willing to use any means to capture the American Dream — success, wealth and, most importantly, respect.
To Keaton and director John Hancock, it does not matter whether you like Kroc. Indeed, Kroc is despicable, and actor and director show no compunction to soften his image.
The bottom line is what is most important for Kroc, even if that includes using powdered milk instead of the real thing in the company’s shakes.
When the McDonalds object, Kroc goes ahead without their blessing, so he can increase corporate — and his own — profits.
You feel sorry for the McDonalds — played by Nick Offerman as Dick and John Carroll Lynch as Mac. They are two nice guys who put a lot of work into their original concept, only to see it bastardized by a smooth-talking shark who ultimately devours them.
How much of “The Founder” is true and how much has been dramatized for cinematic purposes are inconsequential.
What Hancock presents is a simple and uncomplicated tale of how one man built an empire without thought to the emotional and personal costs to those around him.
“The Founder” will not compel you to boycott McDonald’s, but it may make you think twice about ordering one of its milk shakes.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
3 stars out of 4