THE FOUNDER Movie Review
By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic
Keaton straddles the humble, and then the bastard, Ray Croc with aplomb. You will end up hating the man.
I have never eaten a McDonald’s hamburger. (I’m a life-long vegetarian.) If THE FOUNDER had been made 30 years ago, you wouldn’t have eaten one either. There would not be – as calculated in 2012 – 14,157 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States.
Ray Croc stole from the two brothers who created the fast-food concept. Further, when he forced them to sell, he promised them – by handshake – royalties. The brothers never saw a royalty check. Croc died with a dazzling reputation and a $500 million dollar fortune.
Ray Croc (Michael Keaton) starts out as an impassioned salesman, selling milkshake mixer machines. Ray is a nice, decent guy. He calls his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) every night while on the road telling her things are going great. He calls the office and tells office manager June (Kate Kneeland) the same thing. When he hears that an order for 6 milkshake mixer machines has come in, he travels across the country to see the men who placed the order.
Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and Maurice (John Carroll Lynch) own “McDonald’s”, a burger, fries and milkshakes joint in San Bernardino, Calif. The McDonald brothers are doing fantastic business selling 15 cent hamburgers in paper bags. Ray asks where is he to eat the burger he just brought and he is told, anywhere, in your car, in the park, or right on the sidewalk.
The brothers proudly show Ray their ground-breaking setup and at dinner they explain the entire philosophy of what we now know as “fast food”.
Ray, who up until this very moment has been a failure, seizes upon this fast food concept and becomes the franchiser for the brothers. Others have tried and failed.
But Ray Croc is going to make it happen. He will build an empire, serving all Americans – except Victoria Alexander.
Ray supposedly developed McDonald’s strict quality control and the importance of the two little pickles and the dash of mustard and ketchup. But it was the McDonald brothers who developed the fast food protocols and tested every batch of French fries for crispiness.
In Martin Scorsese’s CASINO, Sam Rothstein is watching every little detail in his casino. When he sees that his breakfast blueberry muffin has no blueberries in it while his companion’s muffin is filled with blueberries, he tells the baker: “From now on I want you to put an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin.”
“Do you know how long that’s going to take?” asks the baker.
THE FOUNDER hobbles along amusingly detailing Ray’s attempts to get funding, his failure to get a bank loan, mortgaging his house, and friends’ laughter at this hair-brain idea. This mid-Western good guy, who we have seen sweating and lugging a huge milkshake mixer machine all over the mid-west and failing to sell even one, takes a wild turn.
Suddenly, THE FOUNDER wakes up. Ray Croc is a ruthless mother***ker.
I was shocked. I never heard how nasty, selfish and mean Ray Croc was. He crafted stealing the McDonald’s fast food concept from the brothers. He stole from them. Ray Croc did not care about the contract he signed with them. When he forced the brothers to sign away their business and forego a contract stipulation regarding royalties, it begs the question: What kind of hick lawyers did those brothers have? Their lawyers agreed to a “handshake” deal?
When a friend, Rollie Smith (Patrick Wilson) and his wife, Joan (Linda Cardellini) agree to open one of the franchises, Joan sees the possibilities in Ray. He gets the signals and one night at dinner he tells Ethel wants a divorce. Just like that.
When Ray initiated a divorce from long-suffering Ethel, he told his lawyer she was not going to get any of his McDonald’s money. Not one penny. What kind of backwoods lawyer did she have? Her lawyer, knowing there was no pre-nup, agreed to that?
What happened to the first Mrs. Croc?
How did Ray Croc do this? And even after stealing the business from the brothers, he was not satisfied until they were ruined. They were not allowed to use their name. In time, their original McDonald’s closed when an “official” McDonald’s went up across the street.
Director John Lee Hancock has tamed Keaton and delivers an amusing tale. I liked how Ray’s suits told the trajectory of his success. Keaton does a terrific job when the screenplay unleashes the true Ray Croc. Linda Cardellini is at her seductive best. The look on her face as she compliments Ray and you know he is a goner. He’ll soon be under her thumb.
The only criticism I have is that character and personality rarely change. No one wakes up and decides this is the day to screw everyone around them. Ray Croc had to be a bastard from the start and this is not even glimpsed at. So instead of seeing Croc’s story as the American Dream – the meek little man becomes an empire builder – you are left cursing him.
Of course, the audience would not go along with Croc if he was a bastard from the get-go, but there is no hint of the ruthless man that would emerge later.
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Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.