McDonald’s is a Kroc: a Review of The Founder

If you thought the first McDonald’s was all of Ray Kroc’s doing, you are mistaken. Back in 1954, when Marilyn Monroe was tying the knot with Joe DiMaggio, Elvis Presley was recording That’s All Right and Walt Disney had almost completed the construction of his amusement park in Anaheim, a 52 year old salesman arrived in San Bernardino to meet Richard and Maurice McDonald. They were the ones who came up with a speedy system to make food, and Ray saw franchise potential.

The Founder portrays the crescent spirit of capitalism, that is intrinsic in the fast-food profit machine we know today that is spread all around the globe: McDonald’s. The marketing strategy behind the brand was undoubtedly conceived by Mr Kroc, but to the detriment of the quality of what goes in our stomachs. From Dick and Mac’s meticulous choice of meats and healthy ingredients, the restaurant chain switched to powdered milkshakes, that epitomized Kroc’s preference to productivity over ethics.

The film is incredibly timely and modern in showing how any start-up business today follows real estate guidelines. In fact, McDonald’s Corporation earns revenue as an investor in properties, through a variety of franchise agreements and joint ventures. The company earns such a significant portion of its revenue from rental payments from franchisees, that in recent times there have been calls to spin off the company’s US holdings into a potential real estate investment trust.

Director John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side, The Rookie) masterfully portrays the rapacious improvised entrepreneur, who is eager to conquer his place in the sun and is in a hurry to do so…considering he is no longer in his prime. The film opens with the song Boom Like That, which sets the mood for a story where the villain ultimately gets the happy ending, whereas the heroes get forgotten by history and their silence is bought with over a couple million dollars.

Michael Keaton is incredible in the way he portrays the many shades of Ray Kroc: he is despicable, but he irresistibly conquers the audience’s empathy for his relentless desire to succeed. Ray wants to stand out of the crowd, he yearns to change his unfulfilling life. In a way he embodies Steve Job’s quote from The Whole Earth Catalogue Stay Hungry Stay Foolish. But the means Kroc uses are of a usurper. Yet again he is leaping into the future, heading directly to the quintessence of consumerism, whereas Richard and Maurice McDonald cling onto an idealistic past distinguished by small scale sustainable capitalism.

Along with Keaton’s exceptional performance the rest of the cast (Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B. J. Novak, Laura Dern, Ric Reitz, Justin Randell Brooke, Wilbur Fitzgerald) brilliantly plays with elegant understatement, leaving “The Founder” forestage.

As we observe the birth of the junk food system, through John Lee Hancock’s storytelling, our minds start pondering whether the current trends in the food industry, that glorify healthy living, are exempt from the strategic economic setup. After all veganism can be expensive for consumers, and profitable for producers. However if we truly are what we eat it is recommendable to follow Virginia Woolf’s advice: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”