Mission Lab 2018

REVIEW: ‘The Founder’ may cause you to never visit a McDonald’s again

January 20th, 2017 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘The Founder’ may cause you to never visit a McDonald’s again

Ray Kroc is an entrepreneur with a great idea, but there’s one huge problem. It’s not original to him.

That, though, isn’t going to stop him. Kroc wants to open restaurants across the nation that can do the unthinkable: serve burgers and fries within 30 seconds in a 1950s society where it’s not uncommon to wait 30 minutes. And he wants to name all of them “McDonald’s,” even though brothers Dick and Maurice McDonald—the men who originated the concept—want to keep the idea in California, the home of their first restaurant.   

A biopic based on the life of Kroc—The Founder (PG-13)—opens this weekend, telling the controversial story of how a popular chain that boasts 36,000 restaurants in 100 countries got its start thanks to backstabbing and ugly business deals that would make even the president of the local capitalist’s club cringe.

The movie stars Michael Keaton as Kroc and Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as Dick and Maurice, respectively, the two men I caught myself supporting even though I knew they were going to get the short end of the stick. John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie) directed it, and Robert Siegel (The Wrestler) wrote the screenplay.

The Founder is a good (not great) film with some content problems for families, but for those who can overlook them, it includes multiple lessons, both good and bad. Let’s take a look …

Warning: spoilers!

The Good

America’s history is full of groundbreaking innovations, and the story of the McDonalds brothers is one we should applaud. When everyone was content with sitting in a drive-through waiting nearly half an hour for food, they risked everything to launch a restaurant few thought would succeed.

“What’s this?” a shocked Kroc tells the worker at the counter during his first visit to the brothers’ restaurant.

“Your food.”

“No, no, no, I just ordered.”

Soon, though, he catches on, telling the brothers that he wants to turn McDonald’s into a place where “Americans come to break bread.”  

Kroc’s hard work, persistence and determination—at least in the first half of the film—are good qualities, although by the end of the movie they’ve been replaced mostly by greed and pride.

Keaton is outstanding as Kroc.  

The Bad

It’s difficult to cheer for Kroc, at least the Kroc we see at the end of The Founder. Sure, we might enjoy taking our children to the local McDonald’s playground as we sip on a McCafe Latte, but the backstory of the company isn’t pretty.

“Business is war,” he tells the brothers. “It’s dog eat dog.”

Their relationship begins innocently enough, with a contract that allows him to open a handful of franchises in the Midwest, provided he gets their approval for any changes to the model. (Their primary concern: poorly run restaurants with bad food.) The agreement works for a while, until Kroc’s bank account runs dry and he realizes he isn’t making enough money. No problem: He’ll just violate it. When the brothers reject his plan to serve powdered milkshakes in a cost-cutting move, he ignores them and sends boxes of powdered milkshakes to stores across the nation. He dares the brothers: Sue me. But he knows they can’t afford to do that.

The brothers come across as champions of small-town America, while Kroc appears as the heartless megacompany everyone hates. He agrees to pay them $2.7 million at the end of the film but claims their request for 1 percent of the earnings cannot be put in writing due to legal glitches. They agree to a “handshake deal,” but the brothers never see any additional cash.   

Then there’s Kroc’s relationship with his wife. She’s initially skeptical of his new idea but then becomes a cheerleader, even helping him find new clients. But Kroc launches an affair with the wife of a franchisee while filing for divorce and then tells his attorney: Don’t let her get any of the business money.

I walked out of the theater not wanting to visit a McDonald’s again. (I’m sure I’ll change my mind soon.)

The Founder contains no violence or sexuality, although we do see Kroc flirt with his new girlfriend. The film has a moderate amount of coarse language: GD (3), SOB (2), d--n (3), a--(1), he-- (7), f-word (1), sh-- (1).

The Worldview

McDonald’s, Wendy’s and every fast-food chain in America are successful for one reason: Americans want their food delivered within minutes. This desire to have instant gratification is one reason we have on-demand films, on-demand groceries and even on-demand prescriptions. Put it all together, and we collectively now have the patience of a 2-year-old. Perhaps that’s why Jesus (Mark 6:31; Luke 10:38–42) urged his followers to slow down, enjoy life and focus on eternal matters. After all, where does God fit?

Kroc’s workaholic mentality should serve as a warning to many of us. After his first wife reveals she wants to settle down and enjoy life, she asks him, “When is enough going to be enough for you?”

“Probably never,” he replies.

Yes, Kroc gained the world, but what did he lose?

Finally, my nutritionist friends would note that America’s love of dirt-cheap food has come at a cost. Sadly, the quickest, least-healthy foods also are the least expensive ones—and our waistlines often show it.

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

I wouldn’t be comfortable taking my young children to this one, but some parents might find value in taking their teens, assuming they can ignore the language.

Discussion Questions

What does a business model within a Christian worldview look like? How many (if any) of Kroc’s business moves could be considered moral … immoral? Were the McDonald brothers simply stubborn business owners who “had it coming?” When, if ever, can a contract be broken? Are we better off in America with or without fast food? (Explain you answer.) Were you cheering for Ray Kroc or the brothers? Regarding Kroc’s actions: Is this something that “everybody just does”? Compare and contrast Ray Kroc with the founder of Chick-fil-A.

The Founder is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5.