The Founder

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The Founder

Runtime 115 minutes
OK for children

It’s hard to believe that telling the story of what this film pictures as a dishonest, scumbag like Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) could be as long and boring as this. Kroc was a mediocre salesman when he discovered the McDonald brothers’ (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, in good performances) hamburger stand in San Bernardino in 1955.

While he saw an opportunity and worked hard to put it together, this film gives him little or no credit and pictures him as pretty much an opportunist trading on the ideas of others. Except for seeing and recognizing the potential of the operation that the McDonald brothers had put together, just about all the ideas for making money out of it, according to this film, came from others.

Well, not exactly. This is Hollywood and Hollywood doesn’t like entrepreneurs, so you can’t blindly believe what you see, especially when you learn that the story is told from the McDonald brothers’ POV. Much of the information came from Jason French, the grandson of one of the brothers, Dick. French said, “This is unbelievable for our family to have this story being told and bringing to light how everything came about and how McDonald’s was formed.” So it’s hardly a fair and unbiased telling.

In fact, Kroc had a lot of innovations, like limiting the franchises he sold to  single franchisees instead of selling franchises to an entire area to one franchisee, which was the common practice at the time. This gave Kroc more control over his franchisees, especially those who wanted to expand.

The film also implies that Kroc cruelly divorced his first wife, Ethel (Laura Dern), to marry Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini). Not true. (Well, he did divorce her, I’m just not sure it was as cruel as shown in the movie.) Kroc divorced Ethel in 1961 and was married to Jane Dobbins Green from 1963-68. He married Smith in 1969, even though she was the wife of a franchisee when they met in 1958 and apparently carried on a clandestine affair.

You walk out of the film thinking that Kroc was nothing more than a salesman with a lot of energy and a good idea who used the ideas of others to build his empire. Maybe some ideas came from others, but he had his own and, if he did take ideas from others, he was smart enough to realize how good they were and good enough to put them into practice.

I like Michael Keaton but don’t think this is close to being his best performance. That might be due to the script (Robert Siegel) or the directing (John Lee Hancock).

The problem with the film is that the first hour moves hardly at all. In the last 55 minutes, as Kroc becomes more and more successful, the film picks up somewhat as he descends into a thoroughly despicable character.

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