It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that the ethics of McDonald’s Corporation are questionable, at best. Under-payment of staff, intimidation of suppliers and the serving of sub-par food are just some of the accusations levelled at the company. Those wondering why such business practices will wonder no longer after seeing The Founder.
In 1954, the world had yet to become familiar with the term “fast food”. It was not unusual for dining customers to be waiting twenty minutes, or even half-an-hour, for something as simple as a burger to be served to them. Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) knows all-too-well of this problem – the door-to-door salesman, who makes a living selling milkshake mixers, has sampled food from countless drive-in diners across the United States.
A quick call to Kroc’s secretary June (Kate Kneeland) reveals that an order for six mixers has been placed by a small outlet in San Bernardino, California. Curious, Kroc drives cross-country to the diner and meets with its proprietors, Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Richard “Dick” McDonald (Nick Offerman, sans moustache). The two brothers have created an ultra-efficient way of cooking hamburgers, which they have christened the “Speedee” system.
Kroc is fascinated by what the brothers have achieved, and offers to help them expand their business beyond the West Coast. After setting up a number of restaurants in his home-state of Illinois, Kroc is surprised to learn that his share of the profits is relatively small. With bankruptcy looming and the brothers refusing to negotiate his contract, Kroc will need to get crafty if he is to get a larger portion of the company’s revenue.
In order to be investing, a good biopic needs a complex central character, and The Founder has one in Ray Kroc. He proves to be a very conflicting figure, starting out as somebody who shares the McDonalds’ vision, only to turn his back on the pair when he doesn’t get what he desires. While his actions are unjust, Kroc never comes across as unlikeable, thanks in part to a solid performance from the ever-charming Michael Keaton.
Another element vital for an enjoyable biopic is a script that has something new to reveal. (It’s all well and good to look at the history of McDonald’s, but this information could be found in a textbook.) The Founder is able to do this by throwing in the odd twist, and showing little-known facts about the company that even this reviewer didn’t know about – for example, Kroc maintained standards at his restaurants by selling outlets to honest, working-class families.
As interesting as it is, the story would be more riveting if it weren’t so drawn-out. Though the film’s runtime clocks in at under two hours, the slow pacing makes it feel much longer, which is ironic for a movie about a fast-food chain. It’s also disappointing that majority of the film’s conflict (and much of what was seen in the trailer) doesn’t occur until well into the second half of the film.
Showcasing a protagonist with morals as ambiguous as the company he supposedly founded, The Founder has a thoughtful character study with an interesting story. Though slowly paced, Michael Keaton’s turn as Ray Kroc means the film is never dull.