Poor Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton). He drives from diner to diner, all the while listening to records about thinking positive and being persistent, but no one wants to buy his milkshake machine. Also, he complains a lot to waitresses about the long wait for his food. Hmm, you’d think that maybe he will come up with the idea of ehh, fast food? But he doesn’t come up with the idea itself. McDonald’s already existed as a single burger joint and he visits the place, even though this movie is about him “founding” McDonald’s. No, what Ray Kroc founded was the franchise. A McDonalds in every town.
So, Kroc is not the idea-man, he is the salesman. Dick McDonald is the man with the brain, portrayed wonderfully by Nick Offerman. So why wasn’t the story about him? Director John Lee Hancock previously booked success with a film about Walt Disney, Saving Mr. Banks (2013), a tribute to a well-known name. So why wasn’t this film about the McDonald brothers? At the start of the film, Ray Kroc has dinner with the brothers, while they tell their whole story of inspiration. And it’s a really interesting story! Why wasn’t the film about this journey?
I don’t understand why Kroc has been made the “hero” of the story. He’s not the ideas man. He’s not even a particularly likeable character. He is all about fortune schemes to the point of obsession, but that’s all we see of his personality. Meanwhile, his story is portrayed with frivolous music as if we are on a magical journey. Could this choice of main character reflect some kind of American ideal about entrepreneurs with relentless positive thinking and tiresome sales talk? Am I being sold something as well through this movie?
At least it is an interesting story; that can’t be denied. The rise of a successful franchise automatically makes for excitement. Michael Keaton does an admirable job as a fast-talking grinning salesman. His performance makes the film flow by smoothly, and I would mainly recommend this film to fans of him. In general, this is a smooth, easy film to watch. In fact, digested quickly like fast food (see what I did there?).
I’m torn about this film. It’s a relentless story about success, where Ray Kroc makes deals and expands the empire, and Keaton is great but you never get a glimpse into his soul. It’s a fun film to watch, but there is nothing really to admire or care about. Kroc’s morality and the “message” of the film, underscored by triumphant music, is ambiguous. The film itself doesn’t really pick a side. One moment it shows Kroc in triumph, and the next moment it shows Kroc ruining his marriage. And I think if it was the film’s goal to show the moral ambiguity of Kroc’s business life, that they would have fleshed out his character more instead of focusing so much on the details of the deals. Only the McDonald’s brothers show real heart and even deep into the movie I still wish the story was about them.
I guess it is the right time for morally ambiguous tales of capitalism. The Wolf of Wall Street, War Dogs… but history hasn’t decided yet whether the bad sides are just part of the game and that this is a success story, or whether film, as a cultural expression, can present a story like this as a tragedy. A franchise of course influences a thousand life stories in the real world, but for the McDonald brothers, this was a story of wonder first and betrayal later. See, I keep coming back to those characters… Who cares about Ray Kroc?