Director: John Lee Hancock
When it comes to screenplays, Hollywood sure does love its BOATS – based on a true story. It’s the first letter of the acronym that Tinseltown deal-makers appreciate the most of course, since ‘basing’ the story on factual information invariably give them carte blanche to change everything else about it, for reasons of easy audience understanding and hopefully, maximised profit.
Usually, this process involves a heavy use of exaggeration, highlighting the good (or even better, outrageously bad) actions of the protagonist, given that flagrant shock value puts bums on seats more successfully than Madchester pop combo James. Therefore, you’d expect The Founder screenwriter Robert D. Siegel to do such a number on Ray Kroc, the man who ‘found’ (as opposed to founded) McDonald’s. By his own admission, as documented in his autobiography, ‘Grinding it Out’, Kroc was a ruthless business opportunist whose idea of compassion and humanity was such that, if he ever came across a drowning competitor, he’d cheerfully attach a hosepipe to their mouth.
Knowing this, it’d hardly be a stretch to depict Kroc – ‘like Crocodile but not spelt that way’ – as a classic pantomime villain since, in addition to his self-acknowledged suspect business practices, he was also (allegedly, but unusually alleged by himself) a raging alcoholic with a history of dark violent outbursts, but that isn’t how The Founder plays out. Not that Kroc gets the whitewash treatment – the only entity given an easy ride in this movie is Mcdonald’s itself; the concept, the reality and the legacy all treated with reverential kid gloves, quite possibly as a direct result of the Corporation’s penchant for litigation, massive resources and inflated opinion of its own consequence. Kroc, effortlessly played by Michael Keaton whose career has advanced in direct proportion to his face crumpling, isn’t especially nasty and in fact no little effort has been made to suggest that anyone in his position, keen to make a buck, would do exactly the same thing.
What Ray Kroc did of course, was hijack the idea of speedy service from the cautious McDonald brothers Maurice and Dick, convince them of its franchise potential and then appropriate it hook, line and pickle, whist the two hapless siblings were busy flipping burgers in their single restaurant in San Bernadino. Through a combination of hard faced brio and ‘persistence’, RK, who habitually spent his down time listening to the sort of self improvement records beloved of aspirant corporate losers the world over, the dirty deed was duly done, not exactly dirt cheap but certainly with a fair sprinkling of grime and tarnish.
Along the way, Kroc ditches his classy, semi-supportive wife Ethel for a younger, blonder, more assertive version, one who plays piano in a bar and with her soon to be cuckolded husband, assumes a McD franchise which goes from strength to strength by replacing ice cream milkshakes with a powdered, emulsified and subsequently far cheaper variant. (This is my favourite scene in the movie. As Joan, Kroc’s new squeeze demonstrates the quality of the milk substitute, the camera focuses on a glass of the creamy stuff framed in shot by a background of her impressive cleavage. The implied and not-at-all-subtle pun could only have been heightened by a soundtrack of Manfred Mann singing ‘Doo Waa Diddy Diddy).
Neither a hatchet job or a celebration of corporate entrepreneurship, The Founder falls somewhere in between, focussing largely on the personal relationship between Kroc and the McD brothers, who were persuaded by the submission – accurate as it turns out – that McDonald’s will become the new ‘church’ of America, the place where families come to worship (the deity in this case being a lump of meat in a sugary bun) and that to resist franchising the concept would be resolutely unpatriotic. That they get ripped off is only to be expected but it’s a storyline that’s unexpectedly glossed over, the movie instead concentrating on the ultimate success of Kroc’s strategy, the fact that the chain feeds 1% of the worlds population and has donated – literally – billions of $’s to charity.
There’s some good performances in The Founder, not least from Michael Keaton himself and though it’s not an especially demanding role, he’s apparently already been mentioned in despatches for impending Academy Awards. I liked Nick Offerman as the slightly more astute MacDonald brother and the woefully underused Katie Kneeland as Kroc’s efficient – and in reality highly influential – secretary, June Martino.
‘This is the best burger I’ve ever tasted in my life’, says Kroc when he first bites into a Big Mac.
To be honest, I wasn’t convinced by the statement or the movie.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
A tofu sandwich