Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Founder Review

This past summer I was really anticipating the August release of "The Founder." It starred Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc and was the story of how McDonald's came to be the giant fast-food empire that it is now. I like Michael Keaton. I always have. And his last two live action movies that he starred in (discounting his voice work in "Minion") both won best picture at the Oscars, that being "Birdman" and "Spotlight." Could he make it three in a row with "The Founder"? Would the Oscars feel bad for not giving him the "Birdman" win and completely snubbing him in "Spotlight" and give him the gold trophy for "The Founder"? I wasn't sure, but I thought these were real possibilities and so I was excited to see the movie. Then they did something that angered me and postponed this from August to December at last minute. That made sense if they were going to promote this to the Oscars. But then they pushed it back again to January. No, they didn't give it a qualifying run in December and expand it in January. They just put it in January. I don't know if it was somehow eligible for the Oscars, but it certainly wasn't promoted if so and it got zero nominations. I think Weinstein dropped the ball there, but it's whatever. It's almost six months later and now I finally got to see it, so all is well!

I'll be honest, I wasn't 100 percent sold on the premise of the movie alone. I was sold because it starred Michael Keaton and was directed by John Lee Hancock, director of "The Rookie," "The Alamo," "The Blind Side" and "Saving Mr. Banks." I'm not sure if I've seen "The Alamo" from 2004, but the other three are all good movies, the best of the bunch being "Saving Mr. Banks." Turns out he has yet another good film to add to his resume, because "The Founder" was a movie that I really enjoyed. Although for different reasons than I was expecting going in. I thought this was going to be a happy, feel-good movie about a man who was struggling as a businessman until he finally struck gold with his McDonald's idea and changed the world. Or at least the food industry with the idea of having fast-food chains across America. That's not quite what this movie is, though. As it turns out, Ray Kroc was a pretty scandalous guy. Yes, he was a struggling businessman and yes, McDonald's was a revolutionary idea that he gets a lot of deserved credit for. But he got from Point A to Point B is a bit shady. Nothing illegal. But definitely morally questionable. That's why I found this fascinating.

I'm not going to dive deep into spoilers with this film, but I will discuss a lot of the themes of the movie that I didn't know much about going in. If you want to know nothing about this film, feel free to stop reading right here and go see the movie for yourself. I'm totally fine with that. Just know that the movie gets my stamp of approval because of the ethical discussion that it will most assuredly cause after you see it. If you see it with friends, then you're going to have quite the interesting discussion afterwards. If you see it by yourself, then you have a lot to think about and ponder over after seeing this movie. That's what I loved about this. If you're still with me at this point in the review, let's carry on and dive into some of this stuff. If you're like me and you were wondering why the founder of McDonald's was a man by the name of Ray Kroc, well it's because Ray Kroc didn't really come up with the idea of McDonald's or the fast-food system. Dick and Mac McDonald, two brothers, came up with the idea of McDonald's and Ray Kroc stumbled upon it when the brothers purchased several of his milk shake mixers and immediately became involved.

The big controversy with this movie was what Ray Kroc did when he became involved with the McDonald brothers. Ray Kroc's idea was to franchise this restaurant out and have millions of locations around the world. The brothers had tried doing this, but weren't pleased with the results, so they were fine with keeping the number of locations to a minimum. They allowed him to expand the franchise, but since they were the owners, they were very strict with what they allowed him to do and this led to the two sides butting heads on numerous occasions. We obviously all know the final result of this this feud given that there's a McDonald's on practically every street corner in the United States, but it's how it unfolds that makes this movie so intriguing. Michael Keaton does a very good job at playing this eccentric man full of energy and ideas that will go to any length to be successful. He's very persistent and that's how he succeeds. He's not necessarily a super genius or a super human. He's simply an average man who is persistent in his goals and never gives up. In many ways, that's an inspirational lesson for us all. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary tasks if they put their mind to something and never give up.

But at the same time, how far should one be willing to go to achieve their goals. What's the opportunity cost? If you have the opportunity to be monetarily successful in life, what are you giving up to get to that point? And is it worth it? Is it better to be a successful millionaire who owns the biggest fast-food chain in the world or is it better to be content with simply owning one family restaurant and being happy as a family? I'm sure you get where I'm going with this, but in spelling it out, you begin the movie by rooting for Ray Kroc to succeed. He's been struggling in life to this point to no avail and you want to see him catch his lucky break and make it. But partway through, he almost becomes the villain of the movie with the McDonald brothers being the two you are rooting for. Thus you can almost call this movie a tragedy in how it works itself out. Ray Kroc is so persistent in his goal of making McDonald's a franchise that he lets the idea consume his whole soul and he does some despicable things in order to accomplish this goal. Nothing illegal. But very morally questionable. Meanwhile you start to feel really bad for the McDonald brothers because you see their vision slipping from their hands due to how crazy this Ray Kroc has become in achieving his personal goals.

This movie isn't anti-McDonald's. Even if it was, it's nothing McDonald's couldn't handle as their history has never been short of controversy. What this movie is is a reflection of corporate America. The business world is a dangerous world with a lot of harsh realities. It would be unfair to paint the business world as being all rainbows and butterflies. It's not just about having a good idea. It's about the persistence and the execution of that idea. Ray Kroc wasn't the one that had the initial good idea. That was the McDonald brothers. But it wasn't the McDonald brothers that ended up being successful with their initial idea. It was Ray Kroc because he took their idea and ran with it. Their is a constant debate about big business vs. small business. Companies like McDonald's and Wal-Mart may get a lot of flack, but there is a reason why they are successful. Are you going to always shop at the small, local grocery stores or are you going to go to Wal-Mart and save money? McDonald's has become synonymous with America, but it's never been all rainbows and butterflies. It's that moral ambiguity that really made me enjoy this movie. Michael Keaton, John Lee Hancock and company did a remarkable job at putting this idea on the big screen.

In the end, I enjoyed the journey that this movie took me on. I will admit that the first half of the movie was fairly by the numbers and nothing special, but given that I was expecting a happy, feel-good movie about how to be successful in life against all odds, I really appreciated that this movie ended up as a morally ambiguous film that turns the idea of success into a very gray area. I wouldn't put this performance on the level of "Birdman" or "Spotlight" for Michael Keaton, but yet he does a great job at portraying this complex, eccentric character that makes a lot of questionable decisions on his road to success. Keaton also has a great supporting cast around him led by Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson from "Parks and Rec") and John Carroll Lynch as Dick and Mac McDonald. This was a great movie feud that had me rooting for the McDonald brothers even though I knew what the outcome of the movie would be. I'm not actually sure what year this movie technically belongs in, but I'm calling it a 2017 film since that's when its theatrical release began. Although I don't think that really matters since it's not quite good enough to make it onto an end of year list, but it's definitely worth seeing if you like morally ambiguous films. I'm giving "The Founder" an 8/10.

No comments:

Post a Comment