THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY (2017)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern
Would you like fries with that?
The first McDonald’s hamburger restaurant was opened by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald in 1948 in a small unit in San Bernardino, California – and the first use of the famous Golden Arches came in 1953 in Phoenix – but businessman Ray Kroc tells a different story. His tale is the first restaurant opened in Des Plaines, Illinois in 1955 and that’s that.
As the company’s official ‘Founder’, you’d be loath to disagree with him.
As a struggling milkshake mixer salesman, Kroc (Keaton) was down on his luck, out of ideas and always on the road. He lived a comfortable enough life with his long-suffering wife Ethel (Dern) but craved more. This is a man who listened to motivational LP’s as he absorbed the message: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence, talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent”. Persistence may as well have been tattooed under his eyelids.
Everything changes for him when he hears of a small business in California ordering a large amount of mixers, intrigued (and slightly confused) he sets off to see it for himself. What he finds is a revolution in the food industry – a walk up restaurant providing your delicious order within thirty seconds. Built on the ideas of Dick (Offerman) and Mac (Lynch) McDonald, the unit sold simply hamburgers, fries and soft drinks and promoted itself as a place for families. Drive-in’s of the time were littered with undesirable types, jukeboxes and cigarette machines and the brothers McDonald’s wanted a better, more positive atmosphere. Immediately enamoured by the restaurant, its story and its methods of working, Kroc’s idea of franchising the business is met with initial resistance but eventually he gets his way – but is tied into a restrictive contract and conflicting business ideals with the brothers. As he begins expanding the franchise, debt hits, marital staleness becomes too much, new attractions arise, friendships fall, shady machinations bubble over and the relationship with the brothers is murdered in the dust of powdered milkshake.
The brothers had the talent, Ray had the persistence.
Ray Kroc was a ruthless businessman – but was he entirely wrong in his approach? Did he not make many people rich? Did he not make millions of Americans happy with the McDonald’s product? (every customer seems happy in the movie) Did he not maintain the famous standards set by the McDonald brothers? On the flipside, he took a family business and procured it for his own gain. In the process of making America happy again™, he ruined his marriage and stole another mans wife. He bought on diabetic shock to a man clinging to his business. There are many competing viewpoints in Kroc’s story, but in the end he got what he set out for and more. He is the smirking face of pure capitalism.
As Kroc, Keaton is on irresistible form. It becomes hard to dislike his character even as he is stripping dreams as his magnetism shines through. Initially he is built up as a sympathetic man, scraping away to support his wife and sacrificing their time to ensure life can go on. His excitement at the restaurant seems palpable and genuine, as does his relationship with the brothers - it’s only when the business ideals conflict that Ray begins to take things into his own hands. Keaton sells the role brilliantly and his performance alone is worth watching for. Similarly, Offerman and Carroll Lynch are superb as the original founders of McDonalds. Having created a likeable bond during the movie, the power of their performances in the film’s closing stages is genuinely moving as the situation becomes starkly apparent for them, they were betrayed and the sorrow and regret is etched in their eyes, faces and stance. The movie does a great job in showing how they were sold down the river at every turn. They simply wanted the best hamburger stand in the area, Kroc wanted to become rich from other people’s alliance with a pocketed brand. The genuineness and decency the brothers represent is brilliantly counter played by the deviousness and flawed humanity of Kroc – a man who would put a running hose down a drowning competitors throat if needs be.
The movie had a lot of exposition to include in the opening third – Kroc’s background, the state of US restaurants, the brothers McDonald and story of the McDonald’s business. Managing to utilise flashbacks, historical images and a discussion over a meal, the blanks were filled in pretty well and avoided becoming too dialogue-heavy. Dealing with businesses and the in-and-outs of their workings, The Founder was always going to be dense with dialogue and description and at times it is, however the performances get you past these moments. Ray and Ethel’s marriage took a backseat in the story and was briefly explored leaving Laura Dern with the thankless task of not simply coming across as a sop, compared to Kroc’s relationship with the brothers this was a flaw in the movies writing.
The Founder really captured the vintage feel of the times in the locations, visuals and script, it wasn’t hard to believe you were in the 1950’s and beyond. It’s a sharp telling of what is a tale of victory through extortion in the beginnings of the world’s most popular restaurant. With stellar performances abound and a compelling story cooking throughout, The Founder becomes a surprising entry into the more depressing movies of the year, but still a very good one at that.
I would like fries with that, thanks.
August 14th 2017