The use of “true events” in film has been a part of the medium ever since its creation in the 19th Century. Early movies retold authentic tales of “heroic” bushrangers, stories of mutinying Russian revolutionaries and dramatizations of a long forgotten military ambush. Of course, as technology advanced and audience’s interests altered, retellings slowly changed to adaptations with configurations. A “based upon true events”, with an emphasis on based, movie is a fantastic way to reflect upon a national tragedy or even reveal a once untold story through the magic of cinema. An important part of this type of film is its educational potential. One could learn about a certain event by reading a monotonously long history book, or they could pursue an iconic figure by studying newspaper articles or researching the depths of the internet, or they could digest this information in a fast, and simple to comprehend movie. Ironically enough, “biography pictures” or biopics are sort of the junk food of historical reflection and enlightenment. It’s quick, palatable; it’s even portable now, and lacks, perhaps, the finesse or the detail of a textbook. In our time, “based on true events” biopics have upsurged in popularity since 1899, and have dominated the past 2 decades’ “Best Film” OSCARS. With recent releases honouring Boston Globe journalists, a person discovering their transgender identity and Martin Luther King, pioneer biopic director, John Lee Hancock decided to investigate the peculiar origins of worldwide fast food franchise ‘McDonald’s’ in his latest film: The Founder.
The film is based upon the story of Ray Kroc, an unsuccessful, down and out food product salesman, portrayed by Michael Keaton (Spotlight, Birdman and Batman). Upon discovering, in 1954, the original ‘McDonald’s’ restaurant, Kroc probes the McDonalds brothers Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch – Crazy, Stupid, Love, Shutter Island and Gran Torino) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman – the hilarious Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation) for a potential franchising of the local, humble but revolutionary business. A misinformed summation of this story is that Kroc simply “stole” the business from the McDonald’s brothers. Perhaps the trailer sells the story as a simple robbery of an existing and lucrative idea, but the technique that Kroc uses to deftly and deviously tease the restaurant away from the brothers is movie worthy in itself. Mac McDonald, in one scene, accuses Kroc of being a “professional leech” and this perfectly summarises Kroc’s sly business move. Parasitic leeching is not an instant and quick procedure, it is a long process of draining, and sponging of certain materials, and this is exactly what Kroc did.
His “founding” of McDonald’s isn’t one certain part of the film’s plot; it is the entirety of the film and rounds off the film’s ending. The filmmakers makes the viewer fall in love with the kind-hearted, gentle and caring McDonald’s brothers just so that Kroc’s corrupt plan is seen as even more despicable. All of this aside, Kroc is not entirely portrayed as a vindictive, evil and conniving mastermind, whose entire scheme is to seek out small businesses, straight away. His character, at the start of the film, is optimistic, and opportunistic and is driven by a professional and relatable persistence that is reflective of many of us. But of course, as power and corruption goes, o’ how the mighty fall, but in this case it is Kroc’s authentic hopefulness that crumbles to make way for corporate greed after he tastes power from once having none at all. The corruption of this persistence leads him to alter his personality greatly, and even leave his bored and lonely wife. Learning about how one of the worlds’ most powerful businesses was built on deception and espionage was entirely enthralling, captivating and wonderful to discover because of the wonderful and blunt way it was presented.
Not requiring any spectacular and extraordinary cinematography, The Founder relied heavily on its 1950s timing. Scenes with stunningly blue drive-in burger joints with rollerblading waitresses gelled up, smoking greasers and wonderfully coifed, bobbed hair-dos compliment the movie’s fantastic aesthetic. Inter-state road trips also flaunt the beautiful prairies of the Deep South. Red’s and yellows are also coincidentally emphasised in the film’s colour pallets, and stand out amongst the greys and browns of the featured cities. Sadly, many shots are quite flat and boring which reflects a very corporate, and realistic aesthetic as well. This mixed aesthetic makes for a pleasingly consistent film to watch.
The Founder is really the story that many didn’t ask for but is the story many eventually wanted to know. Knowing the chain we visit so often was franchised and popularised in such an enthralling and fascinating story is incredible to see on screen. The film is already recommended for the curious but is also recommended to those who might not be so curious. The movie is incredibly persuasive in making you care for all of those who were involved in the long leeching of a small business into a gigantic, unstoppable empire.