By Jim Tortolano
Michael Keaton has reinvented himself from a leading man-type into the kind of actor who seeks out and shines in quirky roles about quirky people. In “The Founder,” a film about Ray Kroc – the man who put Golden Arches in every town – he portrays someone who was also adept at reinventing himself.
Although the film – and Kroc himself – suggest that the former milkshake mixer salesman founded the classic fast food chain, that’s not quite the truth. The chain actually was started by the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac (portrayed engagingly by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch).
In 1954, Kroc discovered that their restaurant was booming and set out to San Bernardino to find out why. There he became sold on the idea that the streamlined quick burger system worked out by the brothers had the potential to be the big breakthrough for them, but especially for him.
Keaton portrays Kroc not as a slick sharpie who eventually pushes the brothers out of their own business out of greed, but as a sort of impatient visionary who wants desperately to bring the McDonald’s message of fries, burgers, shakes and Cokes to a waiting world. He is more missionary than monster, even if he sometimes runs roughshod over people more principled than he.
Laura Dern is Kroc’s loyal first wife Ethel, who eventually gets left behind in Ray’s relentless drive to conquer the fast food universe. Linda Cardenelli is Joan, who will win Ray’s sometimes-cramped heart with her smarts and smile and becomes his his second (actually his third) wife.
The place of McDonald’s in the American landscape is big. It’s been estimated that one out of eight workers in the U.S. spent some time flipping or selling hamburgers at the Golden Arches (I did). Robert D. Siegel’s screenplay touches appropriately on how much this story reflects what’s great and not-so-great about America in the 20th century.
Both the burger chain and the nation are change-changers, pioneers and hard workers, in love with innovation. Both have a tendency to roll right over others in the pursuit of dominance.
If you’ve eaten or worked at a “Mickey D’s” – which is just about everyone – you’ll find this film a tasty revelation of how one man turned a local attraction into a national obsession.
“The Founder” is rated PG-13 for some salty language.
Categories: Arts & Leisure