BY ROGER THOMAS
I can remember when the first McDonald’s came to my hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina. I am not sure my age, but I was already in school. I think the arrival of the “Golden Arches” was around 1970, the year I turned seven. Before that, the only chain restaurants that existed in our town were “Hardee’s” and “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
“The Founder” tells the story of a frustrated traveling salesman who seems to be very unsuccessful. The salesman is Ray Croc played exceptionally well by Michael Keaton. At the beginning of the film Croc is attempting to sell a device that stirs six milkshakes at a time. No restaurant wants this item because they do not serve that many milkshakes. Then one day Croc gets a call from California where two brothers are running a hamburger restaurant and they want to place an order for five machines so that they can make thirty shakes at a time. The brothers are the McDonalds.
I like history a lot, and especially recent history. I am sure the filmmakers took some liberties about certain things, but my guess is that the main points of the film are close to what happened.
The two McDonald brothers wanted a simple and successful life. They were not striving to be millionaires. Their goal was to offer a quality product and make enough money to support themselves and their employees.
In the early scenes, Ray Croc just wants his waitress to get his order right and a few customers to buy his milkshake maker. These three men end up desiring very different things out of life. The brothers had a simple definition of success. Croc literally wanted it all. There a many people in our world today who are simple honest individuals like the McDonald brothers. And there are a great many Crocs in the world; they just don’t all end up Billionaires. As I watched the film I wondered, what defines or determines which way one’s life will go. Could Croc have lived a simple life without the drive to dominate others? Could anything have changed so much that it altered the humility and kindness of the McDonalds. I wonder.
Last spring the buzz about “The Founder” was very high. I read that it could be an Oscar contender for “Best Picture.” That prediction obviously did come true. There were many better films in 2016, but that does not weaken the strengths of “Founder.” The history is compelling. The descent of Ray Croc from a struggling honest man to a greedy swindler is a fascinating story. The plight of the real McDonald’s brothers is tragic.
The three leads, Michael Keaton as Ray Croc, Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, and John Carroll Lynch as Mac McDonald give poignant performances. Overall, when the film ended, I felt satisfied, and that’s more of a compliment than I could give most of the meals I have had in one of the franchises that Croc started.
Through the years, I have found the food of McDonald’s less and less appealing. I used to love a “Quarter Pounder” but I have not had one for at least eight or ten years. I always liked the fries there, but I have not had them in a while either. In fact, the only food I like from McDonald’s, is their breakfast. I prefer a sausage biscuit and two hash-browns, but I want them for my evening meal, not early in the morning. The smartest thing McDonald’s has done in years is serve breakfast all day long.
So, I do not care for their food, or the tactics of the man who stole the franchise, but the movie about that man is fascinating and often fun.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.