The Founder – Review

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......no one wanted to join in with Michael's jazz hands routine.....

Our Editor has once again found himself in hot water. Gardening helps him relax and in such capacity many of his neighbours come round for advice and he even gives them some cuttings from his garden.  Last weekend one of his neighbours, Mrs Ramsbottom, came round wanting some advice about growing wild herbs such as basil and thyme for the Women’s Institute’s garden as well as some unusual plants like Oldman’s Beard and Morning Glory. He was more than happy to give her some cuttings, flowers and bulbs. Unfortunately it was only when the Editors wife returned home from work later that day and asked what he’d been doing all day that he told her, ‘Mrs Ramsbottom came round looking for help with her lady garden. So I took her down to my shed and showed her my Morning Glory. I gave her a wild thyme. She loved it but said that her front hedge would need a trim so that she could accommodate a bit of my Old Man’s Beard.’

He’s currently sleeping in his spare room.

It’s this sort of misunderstanding  that cost Mac and Dick McDonald, the brothers who started the eponymous McDonald’s fast food outlet, untold millions after taking an informal handshake as a being some sort of binding agreement.

This week’s film ‘The Founder’ is actually not about the brothers but about Ray Kroc, a kitchen blender appliance salesman.  At least he was until he met the brothers. Still struggling to sell his latest gizmo Kroc arrives at the first restaurant opened by Dick and Mac McDonald, two brothers who have started an innovative fast food restaurant the likes of which America had never seen before. Decent people and dedicated to their business and its wholesome image typifying Americana they were keen to show off the business they had started to anyone interested. Unfortunately for them inviting Ray Kroc in was the business equivalent of letting a fox into the chicken house.

The brothers, having failed in the past, determine to take slow but sure steps and are reluctant to franchise their business as experience had taught them that the quality deteriorates if you go down that route. Kroc however had other ideas and uses his salesman patter to persuade them to allow him into their business as a partner and immediately he starts franchising.  Kroc, however has signed a contract with the brothers which gives them the final say on any decisions needed to be made for the business.

It’s the beginning of the end for the two brothers as Kroc growing ever more frustrated with their reluctance to take risk as the business rapidly expands and when their aversion to cost cutting, which comes to a head over replacing real milk & ice cream with a powdered and far cheaper alternative,(although the film is keen to point out that the company doesn’t use powdered milk shake any longer). From hereon Kroc  goes in for the kill finding a way where he can usurp their power and ultimately take over the business from them.

Keaton has had something of a resurgence in the past few years after the success of Birdman a couple of years ago and here his performance despite exhibiting all his usual acting tics, (toothy grin, hands on hips, eyes wandering about etc) but it’s the character of Ray Kroc, who passed away in 1984, that is riveting. A man determined to be a success and driven by ambition sees his chance with the brothers business and what initially turns out to be a decent enough man turns out to be utterly, utterly ruthless  exemplified in a scene where he visits one of the brothers in hospital and paying lip service to Mac’s  ailment by bringing a cursory bunch of flowers before he lands them with a killer business punch. The brothers, appalled, suddenly realise that they’ve been totally out manouevered and wholly naive in business.

Perhaps the biggest surprise with this is that McDonalds, who in 1990’s especially were notoriously litigious, have agreed to let this be made because Kroc, as the founder of the business as a franchise was cold bloodedly ruthless and ultimately dislikeable in how he screwed over the brothers to such a degree that they could not even use their own name for business any longer. Utterly Machiavellian he even screws them over when he shakes their hand verbally agreeing to give them a percentage of the annual business gross. The handshake wasn’t worth the money it wasn’t written on. They received absolutely nothing as Kroc even reneged on that.

This is one of those enthralling true stories ending with what happened to each of the main players and is wholly absorbing right to the end and plays like a car crash in slow motion when you can see exactly where this is all going for the two brothers but are powerless to do anything about it.

There’s a sly dig as McDonald’s when Kroc attempts to get the brothers to agree to adverts on their menus and their resistance to obvious commercialism in retrospect is ironic if not hypocritical today. No word yet on a McDonalds kids meal with a Ray Kroc toy tie in.

Here’s the trailer…….

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