The Founder Reviews
(Full review TBD)
The power of this film is the way that it uses the sentimentalism of the McDonald's brand to pull you in as a viewer, and then succinctly pulls open the curtains to show the back room corruption that led to its eventual franchising and fast food monopolizing. In the early goings I had a big smile on my face. In the final moments I was staring at the screen in horror. And I say this having already known the story. To see it dramatized on screen brings a whole other slew of emotions. Ray Kroc just might be one of the most realized on screen villains in a long time, and I say this understanding that every "true story" is an interpretation of a its particular characters. But this interpretation is a compelling and affective one.
There is a scene in this film where Ray Kroc sells the idea of McDonalds as a franchise by comparing it to the idea of Church. He calls it the new American Church. And we can see the MDonald brothers being drawn into this idea. For them, their restaurant is like a Church. It is their family. It is their community. It is something sacred, something to be protected and nurtured, not exploited. And as the film moves forward, these two ideas become the means by which Ray Kroc is villainized against his own suggestion. The way forward is through coopting a sacred brand, the sentimentalism of a name that can draw people in based on its promise of good old fashioned values of community and family and friendship. We see this as he brings in "couples", couples who represent a healthy partnership and a healthy relationship to lead and watch over his franchises. These couples stand as a reflection of the McDonalds brothers themselves. And yet in Kroc's own life we watch him living a life that is counter to these values. He abuses and gives away his own relationship. He puts his capitalists pursuit of power ahead of his investment in his family, his wife. He pursues power and fame. And out of it grows a "family" branded establishment that eventually takes over the world.
And yet in a compelling way, the film never lets us forget where the brand started from. The same opportunity, the same freedom that allowed the McDonalds brothers to start the first restaurant out of good intentions opened the door for the potential corruption. And for as much as Kroc believes he is the winner, the question of what it means to win lingers long into the credits. All we feel is loss.