McDonalds is one of those fast food joints which can easily be termed as an American classic. Born out of the ingenuity of two brothers Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Richard “Dick” McDonald (Nick Offerman), it’s hard to escape its presence around the world. In John Lee Hancock’s (Snow White and the Huntsman and The Blind Side) latest film, The Founder, a failing salesman with a Prince Castle milkshake invention he wants to sell catapults an already successful business venture into a profitable franchise financed by middle class money (in front of which, the scenario is caricatured so that Ray is the founder of McDonalds) at first, and then into this huge independent fast food corporation, but at the expense of growing into a dishonourable businessman.
The film starts out heartwarming: when you meet an overtly-curious Ray Croc (Michael Keaton) drive out to pay a visit to a drive-in, which has placed an enormous order of milkshake makers, it’s not hard to see what might follow, despite the comfortable life Croc has been leading so far, with his wife, Ethel because Croc’s professional experience, at this point in time, is limited to being just a plain sailing travelling salesman often down on his luck. After getting a mini-tour from the founding brothers of McDonalds, at dinner, Ray convinces the two to franchise the joint, so long as both Maurice and Richard name-stamp all future changes that are about to follow. Up until here and especially when Ray struggles to franchise the joint amongst people with wealth (in the fifties) – which is similar to the experiences that had put off Maurice and Richard from the idea of franchising the joint once before, Ray comes across as a somewhat simple and hardworking businessman, struggling to make business ends meet. It’s hard to not root for Ray here but pretty soon the ugly side of the business world takes over and Ray goes from a struggling business person to a financially struggling person. Ray finds success here too, after some time and begins to offer a real estate investment window for new McDonalds franchises – it brings in more company income and follows through with the McDonalds brothers vision of the quality of milkshakes never getting compromised, in spite of initial troubles for Ray in that food department.
With Ray’s newfound success in business, he eventually reduces the quality of the milkshakes that are offered, buys out the hamburger shop and never honours the founders with their business royalties because the agreement to sell involved no contract. What is extraordinary about the movie is Robert D. Siegel’s unique script – the lengths to which a businessman can go to call an American hamburger shop his own, when he never invented it, is a morally-corrupt moment, in an otherwise inspiring film. But I liked that the spotlight is placed on the corporate universe in a honest manner because business dealings aren’t always about honesty, they are also about manipulation; naturally in a business environment, not everyone’s moral compass always functions correctly, even though what they really should be doing is prop up some moral boundaries instead. The squeaky clean image of the corporate world gets tarnished magnificently in the film – it’s not just suits and boring ties, it’s also about an enduring amount of real success, which Ray manages to bring to McDonalds on a global level.