Review: The Founder
A tale of treachery, greed and a code of ethics toxic enough to spoil a Big Mac.Biographical dramas tell stories about significant people in history but they are always much more than that. The person chosen for the bio-pic reflects something about the values of the era and the society from which they came. In this sense, The Founder (2016) goes well beyond the story of a global hamburger empire to the values that made McDonald’s possible and it does not paint a pretty picture. The mantra “persistence is everything” is heard at the beginning and the end of this film but when decoded it means persistent treachery, greed, and a code of ethics toxic enough to remove some gloss from the world’s most recognised golden arches.
The real founders are brothers Maurice (John Lynch) and Richard McDonald (Nick Offerman) who pioneered high-speed standardised burgers that led to the modern fast-food industry. Into their lives came Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a struggling milkshake-mixer salesman who is amazed at the queues of people lining up for burgers and fries. The brothers trust Ray, tell him their secrets, and in 1954 Ray becomes the franchise manager responsible for setting up new stores. Driven by insatiable greed, Ray wants to go national but the brothers fear loss of quality control. When Ray realises that owning the property on which stores operate gives him complete control of the business, his takeover plans are rolled into place.
The storyline follows the facts of history but it is the film’s characterisations that are its real achievement. Perhaps best known for his extraordinary performance in Birdman (2014) Michael Keaton is in a class of his own when it comes to portraying deeply flawed people living on the edge of sanity or evil. From the opening scenes his eyes express callous disregard for others, and at one point he boasts that if a competitor was drowning he would not hesitate to put a running hose deep down the victim’s throat. His flawed humanity is contrasted by the authenticity and honesty represented by the brothers. Excellent casting, directing and period sets make this a thoroughly engaging story.
This film also arrives with remarkable timing given the current global spotlight on the home of capitalism. Millions of McDonald’s fans are regularly processed by one of the most sophisticated marketing machines on the planet. Seeing The Founder is a bit like finding out that Santa Claus is Satan in disguise. Good cinema not only entertains: it shows the world as it is, not as we believe it should be. The Founder tells a story that should be told, and it does it brilliantly.