‘The Founder’ takes a dark twist on the American dream

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Owen Corey Contributing Writer “The Founder” takes the story of average joe, Ray Kroc and throws you into the lives of two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, who were swindled out of their name as Kroc builds an empire that would eventually become one of the most successful fast food chains the world has ever seen, McDonald’s. John Lee Hancock, director of “The Blind Side” and “Saving Mr. Banks,” lures us in as Kroc, played by Michael Keaton, has fallen upon hard times as a traveling salesman. In one scene he lies in a hotel room listening to a record playing a speech on perseverance. The film opened with Kroc talking at us, trying to sell us milk shake mixers. It ends as he tells us of his success and we are left to wonder. Keaton sells the story of the American down on his luck, trying to make his way better than he sells the milkshake mixers. From the very moment he meets the McDonald brothers, played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, you can sense his duplicitousness. Offerman and Lynch adapt to their roles just as well. They represent a naivety found in the prosperity of postwar America. They have listened to Horace Greeley and gone west. They have built an establishment that is uniquely their own and they see it as a symbol for American ideals of family and perseverance. The brothers realize too late that Ray Kroc has latched onto their rhetoric and turned it on them. The flags that once flew over the town halls of small town America are found over the banks and offices of businessmen. The crosses on the churches are found in Mac McDonald’s hospital room, where he ends up after a nervous breakdown caused by Kroc. The ideal of family and a self-made man is hammered home throughout the movie, and it is here that the movie finds one of its few faults. For us today, where there is a McDonald’s on every corner, it becomes hard to grasp a restaurant chain as a gathering place for these ideals. Keaton plays the role of Kroc to the point where we almost believe these things despite his lies, and Offerman and Lynch play two brothers that make us hope these ideals can be true. The movie questions how we view progress. Can we call the stories of these pioneers in their field success stories, as we look at the trail of personal destruction they leave in their wake? This film leaves us with two propositions. It either prompts us to carve out a new path to success, built on the morals held by the brothers while learning from their mistakes, or it prompts us to come to terms with the reality of the business at hand. Business is driven forward by a ruthless perseverance, not the perseverance whispered to us on a record, but the crushing perseverance that leaves no room for others, the perseverance to pick up the hose and push it down the throat of the other. The film ends as Keaton prepares a speech, a speech that he lifts directly from the record in the hotel room. But now we are not faced by a man struggling to make it, we are presented with a man who has, and there is a dangerous toxicity in his voice as he closes the film.

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