“THE FOUNDER” My rating: B-
115 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
“The Founder” is like a Big Mac concealing a piece of broken glass.
John Lee Hancock’s film about the creation of the world’s most successful fast food chain starts out as a playful story of capitalist innovation and gung-ho drive.
But it leaves us thinking that nobody rises to the top of the corporate heap without screwing over a good many people along the way.
We first meet Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) delivering his pitch directly into the camera. Like most good salesmen he believes success is less dependent upon the peddled product (in this case industrial-strength milkshake makers) than on the personality and persuasion of the seller.
Except it isn’t working. Kroc spends his weary days traipsing across the Midwest of the mid-1950s, visiting Ma and Pa drive-in restaurants whose owners can’t see the point in a machine that makes six shakes at once.
But a side trip to San Bernardino, CA and the drive-in run by the McDonald brothers — Mac (John Carroll Lymch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) — is an eye opener.
Mac and Dick have created an operation capable of delivering an order of burger, fries and drink in just 30 seconds.
Everything is streamlined in a “symphony of efficiency.”
The McDonalds have instituted a kitchen assembly line that would make Henry Ford proud. There’s no dining room. No utensils or plates. Everything is wrapped in disposable paper. No girl on roller skates to deliver the food to your car (customers have to shlep up to the order window).
But the food is great and business is hopping.
Ray Kroc has seen the future.
Robert Siegel’s screenplay is essentially about the conflict between the McDonalds — Mutt-and-Jeff small operators with exacting standards who were content to oversee their single restaurant — and Kroc, whose brainstorm is to franchise their system to investors throughout America.
Although in later years Kroc would identify himself as the founder of McDonalds, it was Mac and Dick who came up with the core ideas, who worked out the kinks, who invented the Golden Arches (which the visionary Kroc likens to the cross atop a steeple or the flag flapping over the courthouse: “…where Americans come together to break bread…a new American church!”).
Like Kroc’s long-suffering first wife (Laura Dern), Mac and Dick would find themselves abandoned on the road to Ray Kroc’s mercantile greatness.
Fueled by Keaton’s high-octane performance, “The Founder” sucks us in before turning to the dark side. It’s fun to watch a small-time operator making a leap to greatness.
But in its latter stages the film becomes something of a drag. The character we enjoyed spending time with has become a creep, and director Hancock (“The Rookie,” “The Blind Side,” “Saving Mr. Banks”) isn’t enough of a stylist to keep our interest in Kroc’s ethical tailspin.
| Robert W. Butler