Mark Reardon (@MarkReardonKMOX)By Mark Reardon
Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the man who turned McDonald’s restaurants into a fast food empire, in “The Founder” — which opens this weekend. Interestingly enough, the story begins right here in Missouri when Kroc was a simple salesman for a milkshake mixing machine that had five spindles called the Multimixer. When a big order comes in from two brothers running a hamburger joint in San Bernadino, California, Kroc smells a big opportunity. The real founders are Dick and Maurice McDonald, played here by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch. Offerman performing his character as the 50s’ version of Ron Swanson—the role he played on the hit show “Parks and Recreation.”

 

The McDonald brothers are happy flipping burgers in a few locations in California — where they can keep close watch on the quality. But Kroc convinces them to franchise the operation and the rest is pretty much history since golden arches started popping up everywhere across the planet and still do to this day. But the backstory to how Kroc made McDonald’s that fast good giant is explored with a fascinating narrative.

 

The moral dilemma in “The Founder” is a timely tale for the ages. Is Kroc a brilliant visionary businessman or an evil narcissistic tycoon who will ruthlessly stop at nothing to achieve success? This is a movie version of the story told in a great song by Mark Knopfler from years ago called “Boom Like That”:

 

You gentlemen
Ought to expand
You’re going to need
A helping hand, now
So, gentlemen
Well, what about me?
We’ll make a little
Business history, now
Or my name’s not kroc
Call me ray
Like ‘crocodile’
But not spelt that way, now
It’s dog eat dog
Rat eat rat
Kroc-style
Boom, like that

Well we build it up
And I buy ‘em out
But, man they made me
Grind it out, now
They open up a new place
Flipping meat
So I do, too
Right across the street
I got the name
I need the town
They sell up in the end
And it all shuts down
Sometimes you gotta
Be an s.o.b.
You wanna make a dream
Reality
Competition?
Send ‘em south
If they’re gonna drown
Put a hose in their mouth
Do not pass go
Go straight to hell
I smell that
Meat hook smell
Or my name’s not kroc
That’s kroc with a ‘k’
Like ‘crocodile’
But not spelt that way, now
It’s dog eat dog
Rat eat rat
Oh, it’s dog eat dog
Rat eat rat
Kroc-style
Boom, like that

 

Even though “The Founder” starts as a cheery tale in a less cynical time, this is not a soft touchy-feely biopic with a happy meal ending. It’s as complex and morally complicated as the protagonist himself. You don’t really know whether to love Ray Kroc or hate him. And Keaton’s performance will have you rooting for him and feeling queasy at the same time.

 

This is excellent gripping drama and I’m giving The Founder a B+.

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