According to Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton in this telling of how McDonalds turned from the most popular burger joint in San Bernardino to a worldwide empire, the one thing you need to pull off that kind of business success is not talent, but persistence.
The Founder is another portrayal of the everlasting debate about who really gets the credit for something revolutionary – those who have the talent and genius to develop the initial idea, or those who have the persistence to execute it. We saw the debate arise in The Social Network, and this is a very similar telling of a story where being the creative talent behind something doesn’t always mean coming out on top, especially if there’s a shrewd businessman waiting in the wings to take your idea for themselves.
We went into this film having no real clue about the birth of the McDonalds empire, and nothing other than a fairly lowly opinion for the king of fast food outlets that churns out questionable food to the masses. What we saw was an eye-opening and at times saddening representation of the real intention behind the golden arches, and how that was transformed into one of the biggest corporations in the world.
Birdman has given Michael Keaton something of a renaissance, and he is undoubtedly the man for the job to play businessman Ray Kroc, who grows from a struggling milkshake mixer salesman to the ‘founder’ of the McDonalds as we know it, and who he has to trod on to get there.
Keaton’s performance is the best thing about the film; he has just the right amount of aptitude for sales patter, blind ambition, egotism and giving engaging speeches to become someone you utterly believe capable of building the biggest restaurant chain on the planet. He’s strong throughout, but it could be argued there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the way the character is written. We never see any real emotion other than frustration at being held back in business, but then again, maybe that’s all we needed.
Other notable players here are Laura Dern, who is solid as a seemingly long suffering wife who can’t understand her husband’s endless striving for success, and Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the original McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, are very likeable characters. B.J. Novak as Kroc’s business advisor Harry Sonneborn leaves a little to be desired, and Linda Cardellini as Kroc’s eventual second wife Joan Smith is kind of mesmerising but isn’t given enough of a chance to get stuck in.
This is a fairly straight, literal telling of the launch of the McDonalds empire. There’s no real flashy direction or creative cinematography, though the use of Kroc’s meticulously planned sales spiel to move the story forward works well and witnessing Kroc try to understand the concept of receiving his order in 30 seconds and without silverware is interesting to see. The plot moves along quickly and you do get caught up in the ups and downs of Kroc’s relationship with the McDonald brothers turning from an honest man wanting to capitalise on a genius idea, into something entirely more heartless and money-grabbing, and this descent into unfairness is where you really start to feel something.
Tense enough, snappy enough and engaging enough – The Founder is a solid telling of an extremely intriguing story, and seeing the beginnings of the fast food world we now inhabit can’t help but be fascinating. This is an enjoyable watch, but nothing mindblowing, so we’re giving it a pretty good 3 stars.
If you’re a fan of Aaron Sorkin talkathons then it’s worth a go, but doesn’t quite match his calibre. Watch the trailer below for a taster. The Founder is showing in cinemas across the UK now.