In Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, it’s said that you either die a hero or live long enough to become a villain. The Founder shows that to be true for Tim Burton’s Batman, as Michael Keaton is visibly older, with a face that reminded me of The Joker at times, and his character isn’t such a nice guy.
That character is Ray Kroc, a traveling salesman with a history of not-so-great products. He’s currently trying to sell a blender designed to make five milkshakes at once, but no one seems to need that much capacity. Well, nobody except Dick and Mac McDonald (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, respectively). They run a unique restaurant called McDonald’s that’s like nothing Ray has ever seen. It’s got a very limited menu, with just hamburgers, fries, sodas, and soon milkshakes. You have to walk up and order your food through a window rather than having a carhop come to your vehicle, and when you get your food, it’s all in disposable paper bags and wrappers and cups rather than served on a real plate with real silverware. But the food is good, the service is astonishingly fast, and business is booming.
Ray is in love at first sight. He wants the McDonald brothers to let him franchise their restaurant, but they just couldn’t get the people managing those stores to live up to their high standards. But Ray is persistent, and they eventually agree, provided that he signs a contract that gives them full control over everything that happens in the stores. Before long, Ray has opened up his own store, and then acts as a middleman to sign up other franchisees. But there’s a problem. Business is great, but Ray’s barely scraping by because the brothers’ high standards and resistance to change are holding him back. So he’ll just have to cut them out.
The Founder is entertaining enough, but it seems to lose something as it goes on. Perhaps it’s just because Kroc turns into such a slimeball that it becomes uncomfortable to watch. He’s so mean to those nice brothers, so indifferent towards his wife, so creepy towards another man’s wife, and otherwise infected with the sense of unscrupulous entitlement that seems to plague the get-rich-quick schemers who finally do.
Of course it’s a true story and it couldn’t have turned out any other way, but the film certainly seems to have an agenda. For example, it doesn’t make any mention of his philanthropy (for example, he created the Ronald McDonald House, which provides a place for families to stay when their children are receiving treatment at hospitals that aren’t near their homes). There’s not a single reference to many of the things that would become the restaurant’s trademarks, like their clown spokesman or signature food items like Big Macs and Happy Meals. And it makes it seem like he dumped his wife (played by Laura Dern) and immediately picked up the wife (Linda Cardellini) of a sub-franchisee (Patrick Wilson), when the real Krok had another wife for several years between the two. Some creative license is to be expected, but the film primarily seems intent on making Kroc look like a monster while omitting anything that might make him seem more human, and it ultimately suffers because of that.