Movie Review: The Founder

By  | 

‘Crass commercialism’ is what the true founders of McDonald’s, Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman), rejected in the 1950s.  But if it’s all up to them, we would never see the famed golden arches conquering the fast food world as it is today.

Directed by John Lee Hancock, “The Founder” tells the story about how a traveling milkshake machine salesman, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton, “Spotlight“), gets into the business with the McDonald brothers and turns a single burger joint into a worldwide empire.

Initially the McDonald brothers wanted to move west to Hollywood and make it in the movie business.  As luck would have it, their movie theater opened at the start of the Great Depression. However, even as businesses were failing, people still needed to eat.  When  a hot dog stand could thrive in such a dire economic climate, they pivoted to the restaurant industry.  Alas, the original McDonald’s was born.

Riding the drive-in popularity, the McDonald brothers had customers drive in to the parking lot and waiters come to them.  They soon noticed that the majority of sales came from three items – burger, fries and soft drink.  The duo switched their business model and invented an automated system of food preparation, ordering and serving, as cleverly demonstrated in the ‘burger ballet’ practice sequence.

Fast food was a brand new concept at the time.  Ray experiences first-hand how impressive it was to have his order ready in 30 seconds, in disposable wrapper, bag and cup.  He sees an opportunity with massive potential and wanted a slice of the pie.  Ray envisions golden arches in every town as places of gathering for community, family and food.

While reluctant at first, the McDonald brothers allow Ray to join them.  They decide to expand on the franchising element and put him in charge as the head of franchisees.  Their main concern is quality control – how to maintain consistency in the standards as far as speed and quality across all locations.

The concern is valid.  Facing challenges of rogue franchisees, Ray focuses his recruitment on the right type of people – order-abiders and those with desire, fire, and drive to succeed.

The growth of the business impacted Ray’s family life and financials. A fortuitous encounter with a finance executive, Harry Sonneborn (B.J. Novak), at the bank gives him a new lease on life. Instead of being beholden to the McDonald brothers for a tiny percentage of profit, Ray dives into a new kind of business with Harry – land holdings.  They tie the franchises into those lands through leases and gain complete control.

Emboldened by success and motivated by bigger profit, Ray goes a step further by violating his original contract with the McDonald brothers.  At the suggestion of the wife of one of his franchisees, Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini), he uses a much cheaper raw material for a key item on the menu.

The McDonald brothers don’t know what hits them until it’s too late.  Ray Kroc is the founder of the McDonald Corporation.  He may not have the name or  invent the system, but he’s the one revolutionizing the industry and known to the public.

“The Founder” is fast-paced, crisply packaged with a retro look and comedic touch.  Keaton plays the role with folksy charisma and hustler smarm, selling all his pitches.  On one side, the movie portrays the ideals of having a vision, ambition, persistence and determination to achieve your dreams.  On the other side, ruthlessness to exploit opportunities and win at all costs in the land of the free.

“The Founder” may not be as wholesome as the global brand markets itself, but it is an engaging story about the great idealism and darker reality of American capitalism.

Copyright (c) 2017.  Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *