Arts movie review

Broken ties with fries on the side

The Founder tells the story of how a single salesman McBuilt a fast food empire

8039 founder still michael keaton lg
Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc in The Founder
Photo by Daniel McFadden. Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

The Founder
Directed by John Lee Hancock  
Starring Michael Keaton,  Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch
Rated PG-13
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“McDonald’s can be the new American church, and it ain’t just open on Sundays, boys,” declared The Founder’s Ray Kroc

Yet another “based on a true story” drama film, The Founder chronicles the story of McDonald’s from a single diner into a national fast food corporation. The riveting, fast-paced film hit theaters on Jan 20.

This biographical film focuses on Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a hard-working salesman who specializes in selling milkshake makers. He and his wife lead a simple life, just making ends meet, but Kroc always wants more.

His life changes after he crosses paths with customers Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Richard “Dick” McDonald (Nick Offerman), who are the owners of the McDonald’s diner. McDonald’s diner is known for their dedication to fast service and quality meals, illustrated through their pioneered Speedee Service System where families can eat in “thirty seconds, not thirty minutes.” In the film, the McDonald’s brothers perform immaculate quality checks on nearly every burger to assure that customers are always satisfied.

Ray immediately sees potential to turn McDonald’s into a restaurant chain, but the McDonald’s brothers believe that doing so would go against the core values of their restaurant. However, after much discourse, the McDonald brothers finally allow Ray to franchise McDonald’s, only under strict circumstances that any and all changes Ray wants have to go through the brothers first. Although Ray’s capabilities to oversee new franchises are limited, he is enthusiastic to expand Mcdonald’s and live his vision. The Founder documents Ray Kroc’s journey as he successfully builds up his franchises to eventually acquire the entire McDonald’s empire.

Surprisingly, what makes The Founder superb is its cinematography and unique director’s choices. For example, the growing tension between Ray Kroc and Dick McDonald on the future of McDonald’s is lightened extensively with both humor and wit. In a series of enraged telephone conversations, Ray is always the one hanging up on Dick although Ray is the employee. In one particularly heated discussion, Dick exclaims “You have a contract!” while Ray coolly responds, “Contracts are like hearts, they’re made to be broken.” Casting Nick Offerman, a well-loved actor best known for his deadpan style and dry humor on TV sitcom Parks and Recreation, as Dick was also no doubt a plus.

The soundtrack closely parallels the drama on screen, which has the effect of powerfully conveying feelings in more ways than one. Moments were made especially powerful with well-placed music, including when Ray asks for a divorce out of the blue, or when Ray realizes the secret to gaining more leverage over the McDonald’s brothers with the help of his financial consultant, Harry J Sonneborn (B.J Novak). Variety in camera angles and lighting keep the film exciting and moving forward. With these methods, The Founder spends most of its screen time showing rather than telling.

The Founder does a magnificent job of  mapping human complexity while simultaneously unwinding a complicated and long-winded, true story. If you are interested in uncovering the true story of McDonald’s, this is the perfect picture for you.