Unless you’ve been health conscious since birth or you’re from another planet, you’re among the billions and billions who’s been served at a McDonald’s. The ubiquitous golden arches dot the landscape of countless locations from sea to shining sea in America and across the globe to places as remote as the far-flung western region of Siberia.
The McDonald’s story is one of a company’s trajectory from small time to megalithic, and it serves as a reminder that truth is often stranger, or at the very least more entertaining, than fiction. Enter last year’s overlooked film “The Founder” as a prime example.
With a subtitle that states “Based on a true story,” interspersed archived news footage, and an ending with images and voice overlays of the real Ray Kroc, “The Founder” offers up an intelligent and engaging look at the history of McDonald’s. If you have a shred of business savvy or an appreciation for determination, treat yourself to a streamed viewing.
At the center of it all, actor Michael Keaton gives a tour de force performance as Kroc, the man who provided the catalyst for the McDonald’s franchise. Keaton captures subtle nuances that make his portrayal full and rich. With a personality somewhat akin to that of a bulldog, Kroc’s obsession is to make money by finding the next best thing to sell to the America public. After a series of failed ventures that has left his good first wife Ethel (Laura Dern) immune to any shred of enthusiasm for his projects, he lands with a milk shake machine company.
Business is terrible, but Kroc’s resilience makes him tenacious. Just at a time when normal people would give up, Kroc receives an order for eight machines from two California brothers, Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman). Kroc’s curiosity gets the best of him, so he drives across the country to the brothers’ San Bernardino hamburger joint. When he arrives, he’s awestruck by the situation. This is a totally new concept from the traditional hamburger drive-in with its car hops and long waits. The line of customers snakes around the block, as they walk to a window, place their order, and have their tasty burger in less than a minute.
Proud of their revolutionary approach to burger-making, the brothers McDonald invite Kroc for a tour. From there, Kroc learns how they’ve streamlined the process with a highly choreographed technique and one-of-a-kind equipment. With their know-how and Kroc’s vision, he believes they can revolutionize the food service industry and conquer the world.
The road to that accomplishment is littered with heart-wrenching consequences for the McDonald brothers. As Mac McDonald remarks, “The fox is in the hen house, and we let him in.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
See this film, and then remember “The Founder” the next time you’re biting into that Big Mac.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.