The Founder (2017)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on February 14, 2017 @

How does the American Dream become the American Success Story?

The Founder shows us. It's a fall from grace into gracelessness - spirituality and decency abandoned.

The Founder shows creativity versus commerce; it shows what happens when ethics meet ego - when milk becomes powdered. When a handshake becomes a hand-job.

It's based on a segment of the life of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton). It features his meeting with Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) at their unique hamburger establishment in San Bernadino, California. And, it shows how ultimately he wrestled ownership of their franchising from them in a power struggle in which they had little or no chance. They didn't have his "persistence." Or his gall.

The Founder begins in the mid-1950s as Kroc is trying to sell equipment to hamburger joints. There is little if any interest in his product, but then his office receives from San Bernadino an order of six machines - make that "eight." Ray decides to drive to San Bernadino, and his quest begins.

When he meets the McDonald brothers and witnesses their quality operation, the film is surprisingly uplifting. There is an enchantment to the discovery and potential. They are three smart, creative men.

But Ray's ambition is all-encompassing. Even his very supportive first wife Ethel (Laura Dern) can't keep up with his idea that he will "never" have enough. It's a thankless role for Laura Dern.

Director John Lee Hancock, his cinematographer John Schwartzman, and his gifted production staff, create the 1950s factually and evocatively. An order of hamburger, fries ,and cola is 35 cents. Hamburgers are seductive. Smiles are easy. Ray plays a 78 record - The Power of the Positive - in his motel room.

Hancock does not contrive as much as he did in The Blind Side (2009). But sometimes he softens, e.g., not emphasizing Kroc's drinking.

The screenplay by Robert Siegel is canny.

Michael Keaton has a winning way in his performance as Ray Kroc, but the film ends abruptly. At the end, on screen, we are informed that Kroc's third wife Joan gave much of the fortune to charities, such as the Salvation Army. Otherwise, Ray Kroc's philanthropy is not a part of the film.

I know about it, because of Jim Murray's experience. Jim was one of my two best friends at Villanova. He became general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles and co-founded the McDonald Houses for children with serious illness and their families.

In 1974 in Philadelphia, Ray Kroc attended the opening of the first Ronald McDonald House. Today it's 370 Houses in 70 countries.

Jimmy says about Kroc, "He couldn't have been more of a gentleman. But he was a "tough guy" and a "great salesman."

The Founder focuses on Kroc's toughness and business acumen.

Such is the American Success Story.

© 2000-2018 Tony Macklin