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The Founder: A must watch biopic

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Film: The Founder

Cast: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick wilson, B J Novak

Directed by John Lee Hancock 


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Backpacking through Europe on a starvation budget years ago, the only place I could afford to eat was McDonalds. I usually ate the kiddies’ meals which came with huge toys. Phookat, needless to say. And always, the brightly-lit eatery was crowded. Comfort and joy for the solo traveller.

This week at the cinema, I learnt the truth (at least, Hollywood’s unpleasant version) about the smooth-talking man who turned McDonalds into a global enterprise. That said, let me add IMHO, the biopic deserves at least three Oscars — for Michael Keaton’s fantastic acting/Hancock’s flawless direction/ Robert D Siegel’s fabulous script. Maybe, a fourth for the music — the soundtrack even has “The Ladies of Calcutta” playing at a bingo nite.

“The Founder” starts (and ends) with direct-to-camera addresses by the titular character. We see Ray (Michael Keaton) Kroc driving down the long and winding road, listening to a LP record of Norman Vincent Peale’s homily on the power of positive thinking. It’s 1954 – and Siegel’s script has him marvelling at a California fast food joint run by Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) it’s an epiphany.

The smooth-talking salesman gets a whiff of the sweet smell of success in the speedy delivery of a 15 cent hamburger (yes, 15 cents!) and the golden arches atop a simple joint. All Dick McDonald’s inventions. Kroc urges the two brothers to allow him to set up a franchise. They are not convinced. What about the quality, they want to know.

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Appoint the right staff, he tells him, already fired up by Peale’s gospel of optimism, persistence and determination. Just think of McDonalds, he tells the brothers, harking to a traditional hymn, spreading “from sea to shining sea…the new American church, open seven days a week.” When Dick and Mac aren’t converted by his evangelical zeal, Kroc turns to patriotism: “Do it for your country! Do it for America!”

The franchise is successful and before long the brothers realise they are being steamrolled by Kroc who eventually buys them out (for almost USD 3bn) and sets himself up as The Founder of the company. Along the way, he divorces his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) and steals Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini) the wife of an investor (Patrick Wilson). But it was his third marriage which took place in 1969 (12 years from the day of their meeting in 1957), although Siegel’s script will lead viewers to think it happened in a jiffy.

Just like the food, Kroc’s second wife Jane Dobbins is absent in the film. As are Walt Disney and Ernest Hemingway whom he met as soldiers during World War One. For all that, the film unmasks the hypocrisy and backstabbing of big bucks. Kroc never changed the name of the franchise.”Kroc’s an ugly Slavic name. Who’d want to cheat a McDonald?” Kroc proceeded to do just that, denying the brothers, royalties. After his death, his widow would give away 70% to charity.