MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: The Weinstein Company
On DVD and Blu-Ray, Video on Demand, iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, Fandango Now, VUDU, Redbox.
Directed by John Lee Hancock. Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman. Rated PG-13
When my wife and I are on the road and are considering a rest stop we often scan the horizon for a tall signpost with a big yellow letter M. Sure enough, a McDonald’s restaurant is never too far away – there are over 14,000 of them in North America alone (and over 35,000 worldwide).
The story of McDonald’s is the Great American Success Story and the man most associated with the burger chain that virtually invented fast food was Ray Kroc (Keaton). However, Kroc was not the person who originated the chain, but a plucky salesman of milkshake mixers who stumbled upon a prosperous hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California run by Dick and Maurice “Mac” McDonald (Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). They developed what they called the Speedee Service System – an assembly line that cooked and delivered warm burgers, fries and soft drinks within minutes to customers lined up outside. Kroc knows a good thing when he sees one and begins to court the good-natured brothers into letting him expand their one restaurant into a franchise.
As Kroc makes some good decisions (and learns from a few bad ones), we learn a great deal about fast food, real estate, and shady business deals. As we see how optimism combined with opportunity and hard work combine to make Ray Kroc a wealthy man, we also see the ways in which growing riches and the right kind of legal representation can justify an ethically compromised worldview. “You can’t serve God and riches”, Jesus once said. According to The Founder, Ray Kroc chose riches, with a side order of fries.
Michael Keaton is the best thing about this entertaining film. His interpretation of Ray Kroc is never totally likeable, but neither is he the embodiment of evil. That’s the way it is with sin, after all; it always works its way into the milkshake mix.
Because the film refuses to preach to us about morality, The Founder remains entertaining and informative, respecting the audience’s ability to walk away with the message it chooses to embrace. In our post-Christian and politically-divided world there are many temptations to do what is expedient and lucrative over that which is thoughtful and right. The postscript to the film notes that Ray Kroc’s widow donated much of her wealth to charitable foundations; it is also mentioned that the McDonald brothers never received the profits promised to them by Kroc’s “handshake agreement”. At least they kept all of their fingers; that’s something.
Three halos: A classic American success story, well told, with much food for thought.
Two pitchforks: Brief strong language, alcohol use.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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