The Founder (2016)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Founder</strong> (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) I’ve known about McDonald’s colourful history even since reading the unauthorized corporate biography Behind the Arches, so it’s a treat to finally see the story being told on-screen in The Founder. McDonalds is an American institution, so it makes sense that its history would expose the more sinister underbelly of that other American institution of capitalism. The entire film revolves around Ray Kroc, who begins the film as a middle-aged salesman having trouble making ends meet. His business trips eventually bring him to the first McDonald’s location, the product of two brothers’ ingenuity in speeding up restaurant service. Fascinated by the innovation, Kroc invests in launching a franchise operation, then another, then another … until effectively taking control of the company and forcing the original McDonald brothers out of the business, reneging on a handshake agreement along the way. Kroc is not written as a good guy in The Founder, but having Michael Keaton incarnate him is a stroke of genius in making our reactions to his action more ambiguous: Keaton is such a compelling actor and playing such a convincing salesman, how could any of this being bad? Except that, well, it was the essence of unshackled capitalism and the pursuit of the American dream—complete with a trophy wife—at the expense of the values and ethics that led the McDonald brothers to create what Kroc dearly wanted for himself. It’s a story worth contemplating and even if the script isn’t without its issues (not spending much time on Kroc’s persona life) nor anachronisms (McDonalds did have a bit of an identity crisis when it discovered that it was as much a real estate company as a restaurant business, but that happened closer to the 1970s) it’s a convincing historical re-creation and a magnificent showcase for Keaton’s skills. Far from being a corporate hagiography, director John Lee Hancock’s The Founder actually zeroes on a familiar yet always-interesting paradox: What if dodgy ethics were a requirement for phenomenal business growth?

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