Film Review: The Founder

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman. Directed by John Lee Hancock.

There is a strong scent in the air. It’s definitely McDonald’s fries with a whiff of Oscar bait…

The Founder tells the story of how McDonald’s came to be. Yes – the world’s largest fast food chain that sells to 68 million customers each day. Don’t pretend you’re not one of them.

Set in the 1950s, the film begins by introducing us to Illinois salesman Ray Kroc (Keaton), who spends most of his days hopping between burger places trying to sell inventions like multimixers. He’s largely disappointed with the service of these places – drive-in diners take forever to bring out food, and burgers look and taste subpar. That is, until he discovers a little restaurant in San Bernadino, California named McDonald’s.

This place is like no other, with a whole new way of dining called the “Speedee Service System”. Customers line up to a window to buy a 35 cent meal (yes, very different from the $10+ price tag these days) and their food is delivered in disposable packaging rather than on a plate. It’s revolutionary, and Kroc wants a part of it. So, he meets the owners, Dick (Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch), and twists their arms to allow him to be part of expanding the restaurant beyond California.

The Founder is more Ray Kroc’s story than it is McDonald’s, and both John Lee Hancock’s direction and Robert D. Siegel’s script work together to make you resent him in spades. Keaton plays Kroc with all the smarminess of a used car salesman, and the deeds that he gets away with made me swear to never eat McDonald’s again.* The sets, costumes and cars transport you to a simpler time, when life wasn’t so fast – and you’ll soon realise how much McDonald’s has changed the world.

‘McDonald’s can be the new American church.’

Kroc utters this rather brash statement when describing his vision for McDonald’s as a franchise, with restaurants right across America. He looks to symbols of towns: churches have crosses, courthouses have flags – and McDonald’s, the golden arches. A symbol of “family”.

Early in the film, Kroc listens to a motivational vinyl record called ‘The Power of Positivity’, which informs him “a man is what he thinks about all day”.

It’s very much of the same vein as Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:21:

‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

Kroc is set on his goal to make America worship at McDonald’s, and it’s due to his heart chasing his own success. All he thinks about is the restaurant, and as he becomes more hungry for power, he shows no remorse to lie, and hurt or damage anyone who stands in his way. The Founder challenged me to consider what I think about all day, and what idols I hold in my heart – and how they cause me to respond to others, including Jesus.

The Verdict: The Founder tells a story worth discovering, but be warned it will most likely leave you feeling outraged. The direction and script are both brilliant, as is Keaton’s take as Ray Kroc. 4.5/5

*Despite my initial anger, I found myself eating McDonald’s the following day.

The Founder releases in Australian cinemas on Thursday 24th November, and in the USA from Friday 16th December.

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