The Founder is a biographical narrative about Ray Krok’s discovery of the first McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California and his expansion of the company through franchising. From the movie’s acting, directing, and visual representation of the mid-1950’s to the bitter taste at the end of the movie, I gave it an A.
The performances of the cast in The Founder are convincing as the actors portray the major characters in the history of McDonald’s. Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Ray Krok carries the film from entertaining to excellent as he portrays a seemingly sympathetic character who later becomes an antihero when he begins to control the McDonald’s franchise. Keaton’s direction with the character of Krok flows perfectly with the flawless directing from John Lee Hancock, providing an excellent feel of the movie, reminiscent of The Rookie. Toward the beginning of the film we are made to sympathize with Krok, the failed business man with outstanding tenacity and a drive to achieve great things. However, as he ages and experiences a handful of business misadventures, he attempts to find success by maintaining work, as a milkshake machine salesman, until something better comes along. Laura Dern, who plays Ethel Krok, demonstrates the frustration of being married to a husband who obsesses over work. Dern plays the frustrated first wife of Krok who feels like she must take a back seat to his business endeavors, causing tensions in the Krok’s marriage.
Krok finally does hit pay-dirt when he sells his milkshake machines to McDonald’s, a revolutionary restaurant where food is prepared in 30 seconds or less. Krok pleads with the owners Dick and Mac McDonald, played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, to franchise McDonald’s and after much deliberation they finally allow Krok to franchise under a strict contract. Nick Offerman’s dramatic representation of Dick McDonald, the subject matter expert, and the man who created the fast food process flawlessly complements the fast-pased environment in the McDonald’s kitchen. Nick Offerman is constantly concerned about losing influence over McDonald’s to Krok as he begins to expand McDonald’s rapidly. John Carroll Lynch’s display of Mac McDonald provides a light-hearted character who longs to come to a mutual understanding with Krok to expand McDonald’s while maintaining the McDonald’s brothers image of the future. John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman argue with great chemistry and a realistic sense of friction as they deal with Krok’s looming influence. As Krok becomes a greater and greater influence on the McDonald’s franchise and you are left to sympathize with Krok who puts it all on the line to expand the McDonald’s restaurant. Keaton excellently shows Krok’s excitement as he expands the McDonald’s restaurant and finds his market to lease new McDonald’s to. However, the audience is soon hit in the head with the reality of the minuscule revenue stream that Krok receives as his home is nearly repossessed.
At this point Krok meets Harry J. Sonneborn, played by B.J. Novak, who advises Krok to make McDonald’s a real-estate business to ensure further control. Sonneborn creates the initial plan for how franchisees relate to the franchiser. This business model would impact the future of McDonald’s as Krok would adapt this structure “…[forming] a separate real estate company – Franchise Realty Corporation – which would locate and lease restaurant sites from landowners wanting to build McDonald’s units, which would then be leased to the company… [entering] into a 20-year lease with the property owner…” (Fieghner) Krok would, also, charge a fixed amount for lease and a variable amount based on sales figures, in a sublease, “the franchises were responsible for all property insurance and taxes and McDonald’s rental income increased as the stores revenue grew” (Feighner) B.J. Novak tells a concise and easy to understand version of this model to the audience and Krok. At this point Keaton effectively portrays a changed Krok as he hears this would give him significant control over Dick and Mac.
Keaton wants to control McDonald’s and take Dick and Mac out of McDonald’s as a whole, when they deny his request to have dehydrated milkshakes he seeks legal counsel to have the McDonald brothers bought out of the company. Furthermore, you see Krok begin to engage in an affair with a married woman and coldly announce to his wife he wants a divorce in a lackluster and sporadic fashion. Krok buys the McDonald’s brothers out for 2.7 million dollars and swindles them out of hundreds of millions of dollars when he does not allow them to have 1% of the company in the buyout and lies to them about it. Krok does not give his first wife any stake in the company and the movie ends with Krok quoting Zig Ziggler about persistence, as the movie began and focuses on Dick and Mac who lose the ability to call their restaurant McDonald’s anymore, as Krok is preparing to speak at a function for President Reagan. Krok, also, states that the first McDonald’s is his McDonald’s.
The amazing attention to detail that the movie portrayed is impressive as it tells of the struggles of the McDonald brothers, Krok, and the rising tensions among them. The visual display of the highways, restaurants, and vehicles in the film transported you to the day and age of the movie. The epic display of McDonald’s restaurants will not only make you want to go to McDonald’s but believe you were at the restaurants with the characters. This was not chance; however, as the production designer Michael Corenblith, “…was meticulous about the set design, using ‘old photographs, blueprints and other archival material’ as well as ‘under the radar’ visits to older McDonald’s restaurants to get exact measurements.” (Hughes) The movie’s unrelenting ability to stick to certain details, like measurements of the kitchen space of McDonald’s, pays off when in many scenes you are transported to the loud environment and physical constraints of the kitchen. This is displayed in full effect when Dick, Mac, and Krok first meet, as Mac must tell Krok when to pass as Dick jells out commands and the employees must loudly announce their movements to ensure safety of one another. The acting and directing gives the why; however, the historical accuracies, down to precise measurements in some aspects, pushes this movie from entertaining to a film that you will find yourself researching for days asking, “ How accurate is The Founder?” For these reasons I gave it an A.
Fieghner, John O. “Ray Krok- Culrural Impact of McDonald’s” Quest Club: Fort Wayne Country Club, 15 Mar. 2013, pp. 13-14
Hughes, Kayleigh. “How Accurate is ‘The Founder’: The True Facts About McDonald’s Will Surprise You”, Bustle, 19 Jan. 2017
The Founder. Film Nation Entertainment and The Weinstein Company, 2016