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Ray Kroc's American scream

A still from the Founder.

A still from the Founder.

I don't know what it is about "The Founder" that feels so familiar. Something about a smug and greedy capitalist screwing over a couple of ethical and moral small businessman just sounds like something I've heard about recently. I'll think of it, I'm sure.

"The Founder" tells the story of Ray Kroc, a man who was tired of feeding from the bottom and decided to steal the American dream for himself. In his 50s, Kroc was a traveling salesman struggling to put food on the table. When he passes through San Bernardino and sees McDonald's, he sees a bright shining future; one where the burgers and fries come to the customer in 30 seconds instead of 30 minutes. And he wants a piece of it.

Kroc ingratiates himself to Richard and Maurice McDonald so much so that they put him under contract as their franchise agent. Dick and Mac (played with genuine heart and warmth by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) care about their business. They care about quality control and giving customers good food for inexpensive prices. The McDonald's brothers see Kroc's ambition and, even though he scares them a little, they decide to trust the man. It was the worst mistake of their lives.

Kroc is under a contract with the McDonald's brothers that says he can't make franchise decisions without their personal OK—something they never give him. Kroc doesn't care about the brand as much as he cares about making money hand over fist. So when he hears "no" one too many times, he hatches a scheme to steal the business (and the land) right out from under the brothers.

Michael Keaton is mesmerizing as Ray Kroc. He gives the man a hangdog soul that makes the audience root for him for the first half of the movie—until his abrupt shift into a blood-thirsty capitalist scumbag. Here's the thing: Ray Kroc is never lazy. He did have the vision to make McDonald's what it is today: a massive franchise that feeds one percent of the population every day. His ambition created the massive corporation much more than the McDonald's brothers ever did... but it still wasn't his idea.

All of this leads to the biggest problem with the film. "The Founder" could have been a pointed and biting look at American capitalism like "The Social Network" or "Glengarry Glen Ross." Instead, it's just a straightforward biopic of Ray Kroc with uninspired direction by journeyman director John Lee Hancock. Hancock keeps the pace moving, but without any style, subtext or flair—in much the same way as he did "The Blind Side" and "Saving Mr. Banks."

"The Founder" wants to be a critique of the American dream, but it lacks the depth it needs in order to make its points. The film seems afraid to judge Kroc for his actions because it's trying to tell a story without bias, but if the story is true to history, then he should be judged for those actions. "The Founder" proves that the American Dream is available to those with the best lawyers and the shakiest morals, but I'm not quite sure that it meant to.

The Founder

Dir. John Lee Hancock

Grade: B

Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX

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