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The true story of how Ray Kroc, a salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald, who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California. Kroc was impressed by the brothers’ speedy system of making the food and saw franchise potential. He maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire.
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The Founder movie full length review - The Founder Provides a Nourishing and Well Balanced Movie Going Experience
Sometimes it kind of sucks loving movies and living in a small town. I wanted to see this as soon as I saw the trailer but it was only available in a limited release.
So I had to wait for the expansion in the release after the new year came around. So I made the trip up to a larger city with a couple of good friends to get the chance to go see it. I walked away from the theatre impressed with the movie and glad I made the trip. The Founder could have taken the easy route, painting Ray Kroc as the cartoon villain but the movie rises above that and shows us a balanced and unflinching look at the creation and expansion of the McDonald's brand.
*Minor Spoilers Ahead* When you think of people that have created billion dollar empires, you don't picture them where Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is. It's 1954 and Kroc is slinging milkshake mixers on a diner to diner basis. He's got a nice pitch but his mixers aren't selling, his pitch is met with rejection, dismissal and slammed doors. After trying his luck, he gets food at the diners. He's unimpressed by the service, the quality of the product and the clientele. He puts on a brave face though when he's calling his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) and after feeding her some half-truths about his sales, he goes to be listening to an album about the "Power of Persistence." The next day he calls up head office and they tell him there's an order for 6 mixers out in San Bernardino, California. Ray thinks it's a joke so he calls the location and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) answers the phone. The order turns out to be genuine and instead of following his normal route, he heads out to California to see what kind of operation the McDonald brothers are running.
I didn't know the story about McDonald's so I went in only knowing what the trailer showed. The trailer kind of made Kroc out to be a snake hiding in the grass, which would have still been interesting but the biggest surprise when it came to The Founder was that it took a pretty balanced look at how McDonald's was created. We see Kroc in the beginning and he's more like the hero you would see in a biopic. He's treated poorly by almost everyone because he was out there trying his best to create something. He's got vision but neither the capital or the idea to realize it. The movie also shows that he had a lot of good business ideas that represented why he was so valuable. He tries new things like targeting blue-collar franchisees instead of the rich and he's dedicated to maintaining a high standard of quality, he's not afraid to roll up his sleeves to do it. Don't get me wrong, Kroc is a villain and you'll hate him by the end but I appreciated how the movie didn't just distract you from the fact he was essential to this operation.
Having seen The Founder now, I can't believe that it didn't garner some consideration for Best Picture. But the bigger surprise is that there weren't any nominations for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor come out of this. I think this may be Michael Keaton's best work, considering his recent output (Birdman and Spotlight) I think that's a pretty big compliment. He conveys such a wide range of emotions through just his facial expressions. He brings some warmth to Kroc at the start but he's frightening when Kroc's motivations turn more sinister. I liked Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch just as much. They seemed to have a real rapport as brothers, they brought some comedic relief early in the movie but they both really sell the drama at the end. B.J. Novak and Laura Dern were good in their supporting parts. Linda Cardellini was a scene-stealer in her parts with Michael Keaton.
If I had a complaint with this movie, although the first 20 minutes was important to setup Kroc as a character, the movie was pretty slow at that point. It picks up though when he gets to San Bernardino and it didn't suffer any pacing problems after that point. The other thing I would like to talk about is that those of you who always want a happy ending, don't expect one here. The ending was a real gut-punch, the events that happen made me want to yell at the screen. To provoke that kind of reaction from me means the movie did it's job.
The Founder is a great mix of being informative about a restaurant chain that some of us come into contact with almost everyday and providing the right amount of drama to keep things interesting. I really enjoyed this movie and I wish it had gotten the awards attention I think it deserved. It has more mass appeal than the distributor gave it credit for. It hits the notes you need to see in a biopic but it provides more perspective and development than other similar titles. If you can find this at a theatre near you, go check it out.