Based on the events surrounding the establishment of the McDonalds franchise, The Founder tells the story of how travelling salesman Ray Croc turned a small mom and pop enterprise into the most successful fast-food chain in history. Beginning in 1954, we follow Croc (Michael Keaton) on a hardscrabble cross America trek to sell milkshake machines to drive-in restaurants. Struggling to make ends meet, Croc seems ready to give up when he finally succeeds in selling eight machines to the McDonald brothers in Southern California. Croc can’t believe his good fortune and decides to go and visit their restaurant. There he meets Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) who proudly show him around their ingeniously accelerated restaurant that can serve up a burger, fries and a shake in thirty seconds. Impressed by their futuristic conveyor belt design, Croc offers to invest and help franchise the restaurants nationwide.
‘Persistence’ is one of Croc’s bywords and a much reiterated notion throughout the film. Director, John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks) draws the audience in to admire Croc’s naked ambition and determination to become the businessman he has always dreamed of being. Later this language of success undergoes a metamorphosis. In film’s first half, persistence might purely mean ‘working hard’ with success as its natural and undiluted reward, but in the film’s latter half we get a far more complicated view of what it truly takes to succeed and the avarice behind Croc’s cold accumulation of currency.
The film’s impeccable period style, easily transports audiences back in time to 1950s America. An era of opportunity; where if you had the right idea you could turn it into a business. It’s the ‘American Dream’. Early on, Ray Croc and the McDonald’s brothers venture is reminiscent of that “if you work hard you can achieve anything” idealism. But the bright, bold, brash golden arches that now span the globe, then provided a stark contrast to the quieter architecture of 1950s Middle America, conveying a time of change, from small town business ideas to multi-million dollar corporations. Perhaps, the golden arches that were only a sketched-out dream for the McDonald’s brothers required a force like Croc to become a reality? Embodying the drive that turned America into the bastion of global capitalism it is today, Keaton manages to give one of the finest performances of his career, while Croc pulls one of America’s greatest corporate takeovers.
The biopic couldn’t be released at a more poignant time, as Trump promises to ‘Make America Great Again’ – The Founder is real fast food for thought.
The Founder is out in UK cinemas on February 17th
Words by Sophie Exton