The Founder, B
Rated PG-13, 115 minutes
There are likely few people on the planet who are unable to recognize the iconic, unmistakable golden arches known as McDonald's, and most can probably say they've eaten their food at some point in their lives. The satisfying, well-acted new drama "The Founder" is the story behind those golden arches, and while it's occasionally simplified and idealized, it proves that good ideas are not only stolen, they can be bought too.
The true story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a struggling salesman from Illinois, met Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman), who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California. Kroc was impressed by the brothers' speedy system of making the food and saw franchise potential. Kroc soon maneuvers himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a multi-billion dollar empire.
"The Founder" is directed by John Lee Hancock, of "The Blind Side" and "Saving Mr. Banks," and written by "The Wrestler's" Robert D. Siegel, the entertaining, fascinating behind-the-scenes story of McD's is held together by a smart turn from Keaton as McDonald's CEO Kroc, who innovative thinking helped build the worldwide food empire we know today, though in fact, some of the original ideas weren't his.
Much of it goes down as smooth as a McDonald's milkshake, aided by the jazzy score from "Carol's" Carter Burwell, and the detailed, replicated classic McDonald's sets. Lynch and Offerman are also memorable as the McDonald brothers, and they have good chemistry with Keaton; it's this playful bantering, often with repeated phone slamming, that creates some of the film's more energetic sequences.
The film's middle act, and it's devotion to some of Kroc's personal life aren't as effective, with Laura Dern underused as his first wife, with some of these details are underwritten and less interesting than the running of the restaurant. Even some of those moments tend to be oversimplified, such as when Kroc tells the brothers: "Do it for your country!" as if he knew how big McDonald's would become or that McDonald's needs to be a place where people "feed their souls."
"The Founder's" real turning point is when Kroc meets Harry J. Sonneborn (played by "The Office's" B.J. Novak), whose ideas really transformed McDonald's into the massive corporation it is today, and it's unfortunate the film doesn't devote more time to him (the real difference maker for McD's: real estate). Getting even more cursory notice is Fred Turner, the future CEO of McDonald's, who would help expand McDonald's global presence.
Kroc's aggressive tactics don't portray him in the most sympathetic light, given that he not only took the McDonald brothers ideas, he didn't fairly compensate them for it (milkshakes are obviously more important than handshakes here), but he does in fact deserve credit for building into the worldwide name brand it is today. In essence, he took their ideas and ran with it, and as the end credits note, helps feed 1% of the world's population on a daily basis.
The enjoyable and compelling "The Founder" lacks the heavy-hitting potency of say, "The Social Network" and pulls about as many surprises as a Happy Meal, but it's still a nice tribute to Kroc and the iconic restaurant you'll find across just about any stretch of the globe.