The founders and dreamers and takers of risk
Are known for success
And their tirelessness
And refusal to heed the world’s stubborn “tsk, tsk.”
Yet no success came without stumbles and loss,
And when a dream bleeds,
It plants cynical seeds
Just waiting to sprout when the dreamer is boss.
When dreams do pay off and the struggle is won,
The dreamer may find,
As he glances behind,
Regret hanging over the great deeds he’s done.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for brief language, could otherwise be PG)
Based on its December release and strong central performance, The Founder was clearly aiming to be Oscar material, but even if that didn’t happen, it’s still a well-wrought peek into the history of an icon. McDonald’s is such a mainstay of American culture that it’s hard to imagine a time without those “Golden Arches” on every other corner, which is appropriately what Ray Kroc envisioned when he had the idea to revolutionize the food industry. Then again, did he revolutionize it or simply spread the change and reap the glory? The movie itself can’t quite decide on a definitive answer.
From the very beginning, it’s easy to sympathize with Kroc (Michael Keaton, in fine form), a washed-up milkshake machine salesman whose past attempts at scoring the next big thing have been nothing but fiascoes. After enduring the drawbacks of the drive-in (which I didn’t even know had such negatives back then), a visit to San Bernardino, California, introduces him to the very first McDonald’s, the immensely popular brainchild of Mac and Dick McDonald. It was strange watching Ray see fast-food conveniences that are commonplace today for the very first time, things like eating out of paper or receiving your order within minutes. It’s a reminder of just how game-changing the McDonald brothers’ idea was, and Ray recognizes its potential immediately and dives head first into his new goal of franchising the heck out of it.
Because the title is The Founder and not The Founders, Ray’s eventual takeover of the company should come as no surprise. Yet, watching it with my VC, I was struck by how objectively the film presents Ray’s machinations and how differently my VC and I viewed his actions. We both empathized with Kroc’s early business failings and aspirations, especially when he convinces Dick and Mac to franchise and employs other down-and-out everymen like himself, giving them a chance that didn’t come as easily for him. It’s also hard to argue with his success, sprouting new McDonald’s locations throughout the Midwest, albeit with some bumps along the way.
Yet at some point, a line is crossed between admirable enterprise and predatory ambition, and it’s an ambiguous boundary that could be different for each viewer. I thought he was pushing a bit too far when he started going around Dick and Mac’s orders, frustrated at their constant negativity toward his big ideas. My VC, on the other hand, sympathized with Ray far longer and thought that the McDonalds were a little too naïve and standing in the way of expansion and profit, especially since they weren’t taking the risk Ray was. I can’t say she’s wrong since it comes down to how hard-hearted each of us thinks the world of business should be, though we both agree there’s still a point when Kroc’s cutthroat philosophy goes too far, even extending into his marriage and personal life. This dichotomy of runaway creative success and regrettable corporate backstabbing reminded me a lot of The Social Network, especially with its dubious but visionary real-life subject.
Directed by The Blind Side’s John Lee Hancock, The Founder is an entertaining look at how a pioneering burger joint became an institution, made more unique by its moral ambivalence. Keaton excels as Kroc, with just the right amount of car salesman charisma to make him relatable and explain his marketing success, and the rest of the actors offer commendable support, especially Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as Dick and Mac, respectively. It does make me wonder how the current McDonald’s Corporation felt about the film, since it doesn’t steer away from the ruthlessness of its self-proclaimed founder. The Founder is both a success story and a tale of loss, one that charted a new course for the restaurant industry and properly records what was lost along the way.
Best line: (Ray, quoting a motivational recording he listened to) “Nothing in this world can take the place of good old persistence. Talent won’t. Nothing’s more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius won’t. Unrecognized genius is practically a cliché. Education won’t. Why, the world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all-powerful.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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