I watched The Founder last night. I was originally drawn in by the fact that Michael Keaton was in it. He's always given great performances. I used to be miffed that I never got to see him in the role Steve Martin eventually took over in the film Leap of Faith. I got my wish, sorta, when Michael Keaton played a shady faith healer on the show Frasier. Him being great in that role just made me even sadder that he dropped out of Leap of Faith. Nevertheless, Michael Keaton shined in the film Birdman, a film where the main character laments having been known only for playing a superhero. The ironic twist in this being that Michael Keaton is most famous for playing Batman in the two Tim Burton movies. In another weird and ironic twist, after playing this part of Birdman in Birdman, Keaton comes back as another flying winged comic book character, Vulture, in this year's blockbuster Spider-Man: Homecoming.
In The Founder, Keaton isn't playing anyone from any comic book. He's playing real life fast food icon Ray Kroc. My first thought after watching this movie was, what exactly were they going for here? Ray Kroc was a huckster who conned the McDonald Brothers out of the business they started. Nowhere in this film is Kroc painted as a sympathetic character. Not only does he randomly leave his wife one day, he replaces her with another man's wife. On top of that, he makes it to where his ex-wife doesn't get any part of his business, pretty much leaving her destitute with a house and the cars. In the climax of the film, Kroc buys Mac and Dick McDonald's shares of the company, renegs on a handshake deal to give them royalties, and then, makes them change the name of their original McDonald's stand. To drive the point home and to be an even greater asshole, he opens a McDonald's across the street from the original store, now known as The Big M. In reality, he opened a McDonald's down the street a bit, but still, it was seen as a hostile move that eventually forced the McDonald Brothers out of business within two years.
Character aside, the performances from everyone in the film were top notch. Keaton's interpretation of Ray Kroc reminded me of his role in a not very well known '80's film, Gung-Ho. In that movie, Keaton is an auto plant manager trying to save the small town he lives in by convincing a Japanese company to reopen the plant, thus bringing jobs back to the town. Keaton's character's drive to success in that film reminded me of just how hard Ray Kroc in the movie was trying to move milkshake machines, and later McDonald's franchises.
Nick Offerman did an amazing job as Dick McDonald, as did John Carroll Lynch portraying Mac McDonald. I had just watched John Carroll Lynch's performance as Arthur Leigh Allen (one of the many men believed to be the Zodiac Killer) in Zodiac. While I had seen him in other things, including The Drew Carey Show, I didn't take him serious as an actor until Zodiac. Here he does a great job as the timid, weaker of the two McDonald Brothers. Nick on the other hand, plays the more alpha Dick McDonald. Mac was the strong-willed brother, but often he was outsmarted and out foxed by the slickster Ray Kroc. Laura Dern also did a greate job as Ray's first wife.
The movie was well done. Most documentaries of this kind, where the story is somewhat already known, we get just a smattering of scenes and some bad dialogue (I'm looking at you, Notorious). But this movie was actually paced really well, and the acting really drove home the parts that some of us already knew. The only cringey moment was when Ray met Fred Turner for the first time. "What's your name, son?" "Fred Turner!" *pause so the audience can gasp*
While I don't think the filmmakers went out of their way to paint Ray Kroc in a bad light, I think they were just trying to present the facts as best they could. I did some Googling after watching the film, and for the most part, everything happened the way it appeared in the movie. Ray Kroc was a dastardly asshole, and here is how he used his cunningness to yank away the dreams of two small-time hamburger makers from New Hampshire. The only negative is that I wanted a little more on the personal side of Ray Kroc.
Samuel Colunga is a writer/podcaster from Texas by day, and superhero by night.