Review: ‘The Founder’ feels like a creepy fable without a moral lesson

Marcus Goh
Contributor

 

Ray Kroc’s (Michael Keaton) first experience with McDonald’s in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)

“The Founder” is a biographical drama based on the birth of McDonald’s as a fast food chain.

The show revolves around an old salesman comes across the McDonald brothers in 1954, who have created a revolutionary new kitchen production system. He helps them franchise the business and turn it into a nationwide chain, but things start going south for the contented brothers and the ambitious salesman.

“The Founder” is directed by John Lee Hancock and written by Robert D. Siegel. It stars Michael Keaton (Ray Kroc), Nick Offerman (Richard “Dick” McDonald), John Carroll Lynch (Maurice “Mac” McDonald), Linda Cardellini (Joan Smith), Patrick Wilson (Rollie Smith), B. K. Novak (Harry J. Sonneborn), and Laura Dern (Ethel Fleming). It is rated PG13.

Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) makes a call in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)

“The Founder” is a rather nondescript title for a film about McDonald’s, but as you’ll learn by the end, it’s incredibly apt. Beyond the spotlight that it shines on the story of how the franchise grew to its current state today, “The Founder” is also the sympathetic story of the brothers who lent their name to the franchise. It’s far more than just a film about McDonald’s — it’s a story of idealism versus materialism.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) oversees production in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)

Highlights

Informative and interesting subject matter

If you ever read about McDonald’s from a business perspective, you’ll know that their production systems are one of the most efficient in the world. So to see its humble beginnings being depicted in the film is an interesting look at how far the system has come. Set in an era when quality trumped quantity, it’s nostalgic to see how a system that has been roboticised today was operated by humans in the past.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) cuts tape in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)

Ray Kroc’s characterisation and Michael Keaton’s performance

While Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is the protagonist of the film, he’s also somewhat portrayed as the antagonist of the film as well. His growth from ambitious salesman to merciless CEO is an intriguing, if horrifying, look at how much power corrupts. Michael Keaton also delivers a superb performance as the titular founder by showing us how his vulnerabilities and desperation laid the foundations for a vicious corporate leader to rise.

Food, glorious food, in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)

Cutthroat behaviour contrasted with the innocence of the era

What makes “The Founder” so much more than just the story of an executive’s rise to power is that it’s set in an idyllic era that’s frequently portrayed as a time of innocence and happiness. By implanting modern day corporate sensibilities in a time where everyone took each other at face value, it makes the success of McDonald’s feel even more bloodcurdling. The stark juxtaposition of attitudes at different ends of the spectrum shatters our expectations of people, places, and organisations.

Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) makes a call in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)

Leaves you with a distinct sense of discomfort

“The Founder” feels like a creepy fable with no real moral lesson behind it. In the end, it’s shown that wanton ambition prevails, at least financially, over hard work and values. You’re left feeling that not all wrongs have been righted, and the film goes to great lengths to illustrate all of the title character’s dubious actions. It’s a biographical film that makes you wonder how many other tales have gone untold behind the fast food chain.

Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)

Letdown

Plot progression comes suddenly at times

Being based on a purportedly true story, “The Founder” takes artistic liberties for its depiction of events. However, several plot points seemingly skip a huge deal of progression, especially in Act Two, when the fast food chain goes from barely being able to break even to sudden, explosive growth. Several key bits of exposition are also left out during the advancement of the plot.

Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)

“The Founder” seems like a cautionary tale with no clear positive message in sight.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 115 minutes (~2 hours)

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes, unless you really hate McDonald’s.

Should you watch this more than once? No.

Score: 3.9/5

“The Founder” opens in cinemas:
– 9 February, 2016 (Singapore)
– 25 January, 2016 (Philippines) 

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)
Rollie Smith (Patrick Wilson) in “The Founder”. (Shaw Organisation)