Back in 1973, my beloved San Diego Padres were all but gone. A group of rich people wanted to buy the team and take them all the way across country to Washington, D.C. My ten year-old life was officially ruined. There were even pictures of the new uniforms. Moving vans were readied and there was no sun in the sky — all hope had left the west coast. Life had no meaning. Satan laughed at me as I clutched my Chris Cannizzaro autographed catcher’s mitt. Life was hell, pure and simple – – -but wait! A savior appeared out of nowhere, and his secretary called to inquire about purchasing the Padres and keeping the beloved franchise in San Diego. When the secretary in question was told the price, $12.5 million, she said the interested party would buy them. “And how will he be paying for a Major League baseball team?” the handler in the Padres’ office asked. “He’ll write you a check,” the secretary responded.
The man who bought the Padres (his check cleared) and earned my eternal, unfailing, love was Ray Kroc. The new overseer of the friars also, apparently, owned a little hamburger place called McDonald’s. Evidently, director John Lee Hancock thought the hamburger stand angle would make a better movie. Clearly, Hancock did not get my input. Still, he came up with a watchable, though not spectacular, film called “The Founder.” Hancock (The Blind Side) has a decent eye for directing, but not an abundance of creativity. The film looks as if it were shot with time management as its driving force.
It’s 1954, and Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a 52 year-old who is moderately successful at selling milkshake machines across the country. He and his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) have a nice home and a horrible marriage. Kroc is gone often, and Ethel is left alone in Illinois for long periods of time. Eventually, Kroc would marry Joan (Linda Cardellini) who would subsequently introduce the world to the Ronald McDonald House charity.
When Kroc travels to San Bernardino, and he is stunned to see a booming business lead by Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). The brothers have worked out a hyper-efficient way to serve their limited menu in both a fast and frequent capacity. Dollar signs flash before Kroc’s face, and he immediately invests in what would become a cash cow. The brothers are salt of the Earth types, hard-working men raking in profits and willing to share. Kroc got them to share more than a little.
The rest of the film centers around Kroc revolutionizing the world of franchising, introducing fast-food to the masses, and collecting untold riches while forcing the McDonald brothers out of their own creation. Kroc paints himself in the best possible light and eventually rids himself of the actual founders of the business he profited on as he continued his quest to conquer the world of burgers. But the business magnate did so in a way that appeared to be absent of evil or menace. Instead, he directed his laser-like vision on achieving the “American Dream.” Keaton pulls off the job of portraying a man whose single vision stepped on toes and crushed competition, all while appearing outwardly likable. Sadly, if you are going to see this film for gorgeous, sweeping cinematography replete with shots of San Diego Stadium and the Padres looking smashing in their mustard and chocolate uniforms, you will be sorely disappointed. If you’re looking for a biopic about a guy who knew a good thing when he saw it, “The Founder” is a solid choice.