Plot: After decades of sales work pushing an endless assortment of gadgets and gizmos, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is certain he finally has a winner. After a diner in California ordered a half dozen of his multi-mixer machines, he contacted them to make sure the order was right, as no diner needs that much milkshake production. But not only do they need the six mixers, they up the order to eight, which inspires Ray to travel to the diner and see the place for himself. The diner is called McDonalds, run by two brothers who have managed to reduce the wait time on orders to seconds, thanks to a custom built kitchen and equipment. Ray is floored by the innovations and wants to invest, but the brothers resist, as they feel quality control is impossible. But Ray finally convinces them and soon, a Des Plaines franchise leads to dozens more and interest goes through the roof, which delights Ray, but concerns the brothers. As time passes, Ray realizes that while he is doing the foot work and expanding the business to dizzying heights, his piece of the pie is minor, so he begins a plan to seize more for himself…
Entertainment Value: The truth is often stranger than fiction, a cliche that holds true in the case of The Founder, a business drama inspired by the real life events of how a small diner was turned into a global empire. I think the core of the story is fairly well known, with Ray Kroc building his fortune on the backs of the McDonald brothers, but seeing it unfold in such vivid fashion makes it all seem new here. The movie is well made and well performed, but shines when it focuses on the dynamic between Kroc and the brothers. The back and forth between Kroc’s grand vision and the brothers’ desire for high quality over profits view is interesting to see in motion, especially as the stakes raise over time. I do think it is sad to watch, as Kroc is a huckster, albeit a smart one, who takes advantage of lesser driven partners, but this kind of business tale is by no means a common one. But when a man reneges on a handshake deal worth over $100 million per year, it leaves an especially strong impression. The movie makes no bones about Kroc’s cruel and aggressive business tactics, but it does seem to have an affection for him as well, which makes the movie a little uneven.
Michael Keaton has the lead here and his performance is excellent, he seems hyper focused and really nails the persona of a driven, relentless salesman. In truth, his effort here is perhaps even too good, as he is much more charismatic than the real life Kroc, which makes him more likable than the material suggests. This could also be part of the slant of the movie, but I can’t speak to that. Keaton is dynamic and commands the screen here, one of his better dramatic roles, I feel. The saga of the McDonald brothers is tragic enough in words, but when brought to life by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, it is even more impactful. The two have superb chemistry that makes it feel like a real bond between brothers, which is no simple task. The movie also boasts a deep ensemble of supporting players, such as B.J. Novak, Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson, Justin Randell Brooke. In the end, the movie is able to bring this remarkable, if sad tale of business success to life in vivid fashion, so for fans of skilled dramas or rooted in real life stories, The Founder is recommended.
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