At the best of times, a story of American capitalism can work as good narrative, but at its worst it turns into an exhibition of ugly greed. The story of Ray Kroc, the salesman who transformed a great burger restaurant called McDonald’s into an international franchise, is not an inspiring tale. In this movie, he is presented as a go getting marketing man, in himself possessing very few of the traditional family values associated with the food chain. He recognizes, very early on, that the restaurant is a wholesome symbol of ‘Americana’; a 1950s combination of good people who go to church, have large families and are patriotic. His own name, Kroc, is a disaster and so when he meets the brothers who set it up, their name, McDonald, sounds very much a part of that wholesome American world. He knows instantly that the name is a brand.
Mr. Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is shown as a deal maker with very few scruples about appropriating the brand of the very people whose original ideas he once admired. His achievement was to identify a great business potential in quickly served food in paper packets, and without cutlery and tablecloth and waiters, for a new, post war generation of Americans who were constantly on the move; in cars, on the highways, rushing to work and commuting from the suburbs.
But he did it by spotting the talent in someone else. He visited the original burger joint in California, was fascinated by the story of the brothers who set it up – Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) – loved the taste of the burgers and the family atmosphere, and wanted ‘in’ on it. The brothers, easy going fellows who trusted this hustler, let him in on their menu and methods, and allowed him to start franchises of McDonald’s in other towns.The saddest scene in the film is when the McDonald brothers realize that their business is going to be lost in a corporate take-over by this shark, and finally hand the whole thing over for a couple of million dollars, today worth almost nothing in the context of the volume of business generated by the giant food franchise.
But such is the new Hollywood, and such is the American dream, that Ray Kroc is presented as a ‘winner’, a man who sets up an empire by following the old dictum of hard work and persistence. The worship of success, at the cost of decency and ethics, is not a new projection in popular culture, but by casting the dynamic actor, Keaton, in the role of a hero, and by titling the film, ’The Founder’, without any sense of irony apparent, the film clearly endorses an amoral view of business. Moreover, there is no awareness indicated of the many health hazards attributed to the consumption of fast food; in such large quantity, and over a demography that cuts across cultures and age groups.
The film is well acted and the period ambience created of the 1950s is striking. But it has to be said that the emotional quotient of this movie is very low, and the film fails to move you. What we get a sense of, mostly, is an overdose of what President Calvin Coolidge once said about his nation: “After all, the chief business of the American people, is business.”