"If You Can’t Beat Them, Cheat Them and Buy Them"
What You Need To Know:
The first half of THE FOUNDER is an exhilarating tale showing how the McDonald brothers created a business sensation and how Ray Kroc helped them capitalize on that phenomenon. However, the second half is sad and depressing as Ray’s darker traits begin to appear. Eventually, Ray takes the business away from the brothers and even steals their name. Through it all, though, Michael Keaton delivers a powerhouse performance about the joys and drawbacks of being a ruthless, persistent entrepreneur. THE FOUNDER has a strong anti-capitalist message mixed with some positive content and containing brief strong foul language.
(RoRo, PCPC, AcapAcap, RH, P, B, Cap, C, L, S, A, MM) Strong Romantic worldview with a strong politically correct, anti-capitalist message with some revisionist history focusing on a protagonist, who creates a huge international business and then uses it to cheat and crush his partners, who created the business model first, combined with some strong positive comments about America and the American Dream, some positive pro-family messages diluted by an adulterous affair and some exhilarating pro-capitalist elements and positive references to Christianity, churches and Jewish faith; four obscenities, four strong profanities, one light profanity, and an obscene gesture; no violence; no sex scenes but married man flirts with and has an adulterous affair with a married woman, and husband is shown in bed with his wife; no nudity but female cleavage in one scene; alcohol use; no smoking or drugs; and, lying and cheating with no bad consequences.
THE FOUNDER stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the 52-year-old milkshake machine salesman, who made McDonald’s Hamburgers into a worldwide phenomenon. The first half of THE FOUNDER has some exhilarating moments when Ray runs into the two McDonald brothers, who created the first fast food hamburger joint, and Ray starts selling franchises, but the movie’s depressing second half shows how Ray Kroc cheated the brothers and even cheated on his first wife, Ethel, with another married woman, Joan, who became the third Mrs. Ray Kroc.
The movie opens with a 52-year-old Ray Kroc making a sales pitch to the owner of a drive-in restaurant. Ray tries to convince the man he needs to buy a five spindle milkshake machine because, Ray opines, supply will increase the demand for more milkshakes. However, the guy isn’t buying any of Ray’s spiel, so Ray lugs the machine back to the trunk of his car.
Cut to Ray trying to sell the milkshake machine to other potential drive-in owners, but no one wants one. Meanwhile, Ray samples the bill of faire at the various drive-ins, and Ray gets disgusted because the food is either late or the order is wrong. Late, in a hotel room, Ray puts on a Think Positive self-help record for would-be entrepreneurs that tells him persistence and dedication are more important than genius, talent or education. You can go to college and get a fancy education, the man on the record says, but the world is full of “educated fools.” From the hotel room, Ray calls his wife, Ethel, and she expresses her frustration that he’s still on the road trying to sell things. To soothe Ethel, Ray lies to her and tells her everything is going great. The viewer gets the impression that Ethel’s heard all this before.
The next day, Ray calls back to his female assistant from the office, and she tells him that a couple brothers in San Bernardino want them to send six five-spindle milkshake machines right away. Ray calls the brothers and talks to Dick McDonald, and Dick tells Ray that he better make it eight five-spindle milkshake machines.
Totally intrigued now, Ray drives 2000 miles to talk to the McDonald brothers. When he gets to their hamburger stand, it’s not really a drive-in restaurant. There are no carhops, no utensils, and no plates, but there is a long line of people, especially families, lining up to buy hamburgers, fries, soft drinks, and milkshakes. Ray orders a hamburger meal, but when the teenager at the counter hands him a bag and a drink, Ray asks him where can he eat the food. The teenager replies he can eat it in his car, take it to the park, or take it home with him. The very concept is strange to Ray, but he clearly has encountered a veritable goldmine.
Ray meets the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac. Over dinner, they tell Ray their whole story, including how they moved to San Bernardino and how they decided to close their drive-in restaurant to create their fast-food hamburger stand that has, according to Ray, “the best hamburger I ever tasted.” Soon, Ray is making a deal with the McDonalds, where he will start selling McDonald’s franchises back in his home state of Illinois, where he lives in the Chicago suburbs. In return, the brothers will have complete say over the inside of the restaurants, including its incredible assembly line of making hamburgers, fries and shakes. Dick, the mastermind of the McDonald’s fast food concept, orders Ray not to sell anything else but hamburgers, fries, sodas, and shakes. The hamburger recipe must also remain the same: a precise amount of mustard and ketchup with two pickles (not three and certainly not one) and a pinch of diced onions.
At first, Ray has trouble selling Dick’s concept among the country club friends that Ray’s wife Ethel is anxious to befriend. These “idle rich” as Ray calls them just don’t get what makes the McDonald brothers’ fast food concept tick. They’re used to the old-fashioned drive-in concept that attracts juvenile delinquents and teenage lovers. So, Ray starts turning to average salesmen and their wives looking for a new family business, and McDonald’s starts to really take off.
However, Ray becomes upset at the tiny profit margins he’s earning. Unknown to Ethel, he’s mortgaged his own house and is in danger of losing it to the bank. At the bank, however, Ray runs into a lawyer who tells him that Ray needs to stop letting the franchise owners buy their own land but to set up a real estate corporation where Ray leases the land to the franchise owners. You’re not running a hamburger business, the lawyer tells Ray. You’re running a real estate business.
Ray keeps all this a secret from Dick and Mac McDonald. As he starts raking in the dough, however, the brothers discover what he’s doing, and Dick McDonald becomes very upset.
Meanwhile, Ray meets a restaurant owner in St. Paul-Minneapolis and starts flirting with the man’s pretty blonde wife, Joan. Eventually, Ray’s not only cheating the McDonald brothers, he’s cheating on his wife, Ethel.
The first half of THE FOUNDER is a lot of fun. In fact, it’s really pretty fantastic. However, the second half is rather depressing as Ray starts trying to cheat the McDonald brothers out of their interest in McDonald’s and even goes so far as to steal their name out from under them. Also, of course, Ray’s adulterous affair with Joan is also rather sad and depressing. In reality, Joan was actually Ray’s third wife. They met in 1957 during Ray’s marriage to Ethel, which lasted until 1961, and they apparently carried on a relationship through parts of Ray’s second marriage, which lasted from 1963 to 1968.
Through all this, Michael Keaton delivers an excellent performance as Ray Kroc. Though Ray comes across as pretty ruthless during the movie’s second half, viewers will share Ray’s excitement when he discovers the McDonald brothers’ hamburger stand and when he starts having success selling the franchises to average Americans who want a taste of the American Dream. There’s a brilliant scene between Ray Kroc and the McDonald brothers where Ray tells the brothers that all the small towns across America have two things: a church with a cross on top of it where American families can gather together and a townhall with an American flag sitting on top that protects the freedom American families can enjoy, including the freedom to gather together and worship together. He tells the brothers that Dick’s concept drawing of the famous McDonald’s “Golden Arches” provide a bridge between the local church and the local political establishment.
That said, there’s a strong politically correct, anti-capitalist message to the movie as Ray’s huge corporation defeats and swallows up the McDonald brothers. After Ray gives them a buyout settlement of $2.7 million, he cheats them out of the 1% in annual royalties Ray and the McDonald’s Corp. promised to pay them in perpetuity. The movie claims this royalty is worth about $100 million a year today. Also, Ray goes so far as to open a McDonald’s franchise opposite the original McDonald’s Restaurant, which had to change its name to Big M, to put the brothers out of business.
In the end, Ray tells Dick that it wasn’t just Dick’s fast food concept he wanted to own, but also the McDonald’s name itself. “It’s not just the system, Dick,” Ray says. “It’s the name, that glorious name, McDonald’s. It can be anything you want it to be. It’s limitless. It’s wide open. . . . It sounds like America. . . . I remember the first time I saw that name stretched out across your stand out there. It was love at first sight. I knew right then and there, I had to have it. And, now I do.”
Of course, the Bible adopts pro-capitalist values supporting private property and hard work, but also supports fair business practices. Cheating your business partner and breaking your word (or bearing false witness) are forbidden. Instead of owning all the land on which a McDonald’s franchise is built, Ray Kroc could have shared the land ownership with the McDonald brothers and the franchise owners, as well as the management employees at the corporate headquarters. Also, the McDonald brothers perhaps could have been more flexible in rearranging the original deal so that Ray Kroc could receive a more appropriate, just compensation for all his own hard work. That said, there’s more to the story than this movie tells. Apparently, Kroc and the McDonald brothers did some other actions that greatly irritated both sides, leading to the animosity that began to develop between them and ended their partnership. For example, it’s been reported that the brothers thought Kroc acted too greedy and egotistical, but Kroc was very upset by the brothers’ refusal to relinquish their ownership of the original hamburger stand.