The Founder

I must say that for several years I heard nothing about Michael Keaton – since 1996 or atleast I haven’t seen a movie of his since 1997’s Jackie Brown – and then since 2014, he’s a hot commodity. And it’s good because I’m a fan and that’s why I checked out The Founder. The movie is is a 2016 American¬† biographical¬† drama¬† film¬†directed by¬†John Lee Hancock¬†and written by¬†Robert Siegel. The film stars¬† Keaton¬†as businessman¬†Ray Kroc, and portrays the story of his creation of the¬†McDonald’s¬†fast food chain.¬†Nick Offerman¬†and¬†John Carroll Lynch¬†co-star as McDonald’s founders¬†Richard and Maurice McDonald.

The story starts with seeing ambitious but not so lucky ¬†traveling salesman selling Prince Castle brand milkshake mixers in 1954. Still he has a comfortable life in a nice house with his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) who wants him to spend more time with her. After learning that a drive-in in¬†San Bernardino¬†is ordering an unusually large number of milkshake mixers, Ray drives to California to see it. What he finds is McDonald’s‚ÄĒa highly popular walk-up restaurant with fast service, high-quality food, disposable packaging, and a family-friendly atmosphere. Ray meets the owners brothers Maurice “Mac” and Richard “Dick” McDonald and gets a tour noting the employees’ strong work ethic, the high-quality food and lightning-fast service.

Ray invites the brothers for dinner and learns their story. He then suggests that the brothers franchise the restaurant and discovers that they had previously attempted to do so only to encounter absentee owners and inconsistent standards which ultimately led to the failure of the endeavor. Ray persists and eventually convinces the brothers to allow him to lead their franchising efforts on the condition that he agree to a contract which requires all changes to receive the McDonald brothers’ approval in writing. Ray starts the first franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois while attempting to entice wealthy investors (specifically fellow members at the country club he and Ethel were members of) to open franchises, but encounters the same poor management ethic which doomed the original franchise efforts. Ray hits on the idea of franchising to middle-class investors, who are more likely to be hands-on and willing to follow the McDonald’s formula. This proves successful, and new franchises begin opening across the Midwest, with Ray representing himself as the creator of McDonald’s. During this time, Ray meets Rollie Smith, an upscale restaurant owner in¬†Minnesota¬†who wishes to invest, and his wife¬†Joan, to whom Ray is immediately attracted.

Despite his success he is still struggling financially as his share of franchise profits is limited due to his contract. The franchise owners have huge costs due to the ice cream refrigeration for the milkshakes & Joan suggests a powdered milkshake to Ray as a way to avoid these costs, but the brothers refuse to compromise the quality of their food. His debts starts to pile up and the bank threatens to foreclose on his house, which he had mortgaged to finance his expansions and he approaches them for a loan but is refused. However his discussion is overheard by ¬†Harry Sonneborn, a financial consultant for¬†Tastee-Freez, who agrees to review Ray’s books. Harry informs Ray that the money to be made is in real estate providing real estate to the franchisees, which will not only provide a revenue stream, but give Ray leverage over his franchisees and over the McDonald brothers. Ray incorporates a new company, Franchise Realty Corporation, and attracts new investors. This move upsets the brothers and emboldens Ray: he increasingly defies them by circumventing their authority and providing powdered milkshakes to all franchisees. Ray divorces Ethel and leaves her the house, but doesn’t give her any share of the profit.

Ray renames his company to The McDonald’s Corporation and demands to be released from his contract and buy the brothers out, the news of which sends Mac into diabetic shock. Ray visits him in the hospital and offers a blank check to settle their business. The brothers agree to a $2.7 million lump sum payment, ownership of their original restaurant in San Bernardino, and a 1% annual royalty, but when the time comes to finalize the agreement, Ray refuses to include the royalty in the settlement and instead offers it as a¬†handshake deal. Afterwards, in the men’s room, Dick asks Ray why he had to take over their business, when he could have easily stolen their idea and recreated it. Ray reveals that the true value of McDonald’s is the name itself, which expresses all the attributes of¬†Americana¬†(vs his Czech Slavic-sounding name of Kroc).

The McDonald brothers are forced to take their own name off the original restaurant and Ray opens a new McDonald’s franchise directly across the street from the original restaurant to finally put the McDonald brothers out of business.¬†The movie ends in 1970 when Ray is practicing his speech about him starting/founding the McDonald’s company in his mansion with his wife Joan. An epilogue reveals that the McDonald brothers were never paid their royalties, which could have been in the area of $100 million a year.

Fascinating story with a marquee performance by Keaton. The supporting cast is also wonderful. The low budget film of $25 million only made $23.7 million back at the box office, which is a shame as this is a must see film if you’ve even heard the name McDonald’s. 8.5 outta 10!

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