If you want to learn how to problem solve your business into a well-oiled machine, watch The Founder and learn from the McDonald brothers who revolutionised the food service industry in terms of speed and efficiency.
If you want to learn how to turn that business into a global empire, watch The Founder and learn from Ray Kroc, a down-on-his-luck milkshake machine salesman who happened upon McDonald’s when they ordered eight of his machines and he drove down to see what kind of establishment had the use for that many.
Michael Keaton plays Kroc, a man who was ambitious, energetic, impatient and always looking to achieve the next big sale. His energy has both an infectious and loose cannon quality to it, but it’s contagious and therefore easy to see why the McDonald brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) go into business with him, even though their philosophy is of the ‘slow and steady, quality is more important than quantity’ kind. Kroc, the brilliance of his vision aside, is essentially all about ‘Go, Go, Go!’.
The movie literally lays out for you, step by step, how the hardworking and decent McDonalds–and their business–are dragged forward at a speed greater than they would like into expanding the business that they created, by Kroc – also hardworking but slightly less decent when it comes right down to it. The strange thing is the McDonalds and Kroc had similar goals – to make the restaurant a success. The slight difference was that Dick and Mac were content with modest success while Kroc couldn’t bear to see potential not achieved to its fullest. That small difference made the biggest difference of all. That’s where the train tracks split and Kroc went hurtling past the brothers, taking everything they had with him. Business, as he says, is war.
The movie, as I wrote, lays it all out for you, step by step, but after it’s done I still couldn’t wrap my head around how it had all played out. How could two creative and intelligent men who built such a revolutionary business in the first place have possibly been defeated like this? It’s mind-numbing. When Dick tells Kroc, “We have a contract!”, there is equal parts authority, dismay and disbelief in the way he says it and it is just heartbreaking if you’re the kind of person who still believes in things such as the protection a contract provides. If you’re wise to Kroc’s belief, ‘Contracts are like hearts, they are meant to be broken’, well, good for you, you’re probably smarter than most.
The performances are spectacular. Micheal Keaton is on fire – he never turns into a cartoon villain, he’s the same wildly ambitious guy from the start to finish and that is a testament to his acting abilities. The McDonalds are just so good and solid – Offerman’s Dick is cautious, brilliant but more socially inept than Lynch’s Mac, who is just as hardworking and diligent but with a quick smile and endless enthusiasm. Laura Dern who plays Kroc’s long-suffering wife Ethel does so with nuance and grace.
It’s interesting because the movie kind of lays the facts out for you without judgment. I’m sure some glossing over and tweaking occurred (like Kroc’s short marriage after Ethel, before he hooks up with the piano-playing, equally ambitious Joan, played by Linda Cardellini). The writing is solid, the film moves without any real sag and it is quite an experience. I highly recommend watching it when it comes out in theatre’s this week.