The Weinstein Company 1 hr 55 minutes PG-13
You may never look at Big Mac the same way again after seeing Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the self proclaimed founder of McDonald’s. Keaton masterfully performs pivots as he transforms from the slightly buffoonish salesman, trying to hawk everything from paper cups to milk shake machines, into a ruthless business assassin.
In this telling of his story, directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks) and writer Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler), Kroc is a sly, scheming, persistent visionary. You start pulling for a man who work so hard and is trying to make it big in business. He does that, but at the expense of the real McDonald brothers.
Was he a villain or a hero? Actor Jeremy Renner produced this movie and says he was interested because he loves movies that have a lot of shades of gray. He, the director and writer leave it up to you. Jason McDonald French, grandson of one of the McDonald Brothers says he was waiting for 50 years to get a call to tell this story. He even looks like Nick Offerman, who plays his grandfather, Dick. French says he and McDonald family members visited the set during filming and are satisfied how this meal of a movie turned out.
Keaton was intrigued with not only playing Kroc, but he was fascinated by the story of the brothers who came up with the original fast food concept, basing it on Henry Ford’s assembly line. There is even a scene in the movie where John Carroll Lynch, as Mac and Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, map out how the kitchen will flow, drawing several versions, using colored chalk, the stations fo the fryer, grill, etc, on a tennis court. It shows how they came up with the plan to get a burger from the grill into a customer’s hands in 30 seconds. Offerman calls it the “Willy Wonka” moment. It’s well edited and fascinating.
So was seeing the ideas the brothers came up with for their restaurant and Kroc’s using them to build the brand, including the super efficient assembly line and the symbolic golden arches.
John Lee Hancock says he was surprised with what Keaton brought to the role. Often, to get into a character, an actor needs costume and makeup. Keaton made the transformation into this driven man internally, but Hancock says there was no mistake when he was Kroc and when he was Keaton.
The actor praises Lynch and Offerman who worked in tandem as the brothers saying long speeches without a bump, even in rehearsal. Keaton says he got so mesmerized at how good they were doing one of the scenes that he forgot to jump in with his own lines. Director Hancock says the three different energies together made for what he calls an “interesting stew.”
B.J. Novak plays Harry Sonneborn ,the lawyer who helps Kroc suggesting that he stop looking at McDonald’s as a burger business and change it into a real estate business. That’s when everything changes. It hurt the brothers, made Kroc rich and now you can get McDonald’s anywhere in the world.
Laura Dern as Kroc’s first wife, Ethel, is sullen, wary of her husband’s dealings, and obviously depressed. So it is not surprising when Kroc goes into “love at first site” mode when he meets the attractive Joan. She is wife of one of his franchisees. She comes up with ideas to save money and market McDonald’s. He is so enamored he steals her away from his business associate and marries her! Kroc played his personal life the way he did his business shedding the brothers and his wife and being persistent in going after what he wanted until he got it.
McDonald’s changed all of their lives and ours by creating a way of eating that even Nick Offerman admits he took a pot shot at in his book about eating in America. Fast food and capitalism took over instead of individual establishment. Kroc built the brand and changed the face of capitalism in the process.
John Lee Hancock presents a lot of detail showing how this iconic American brand was built. It is fun to see how McDonald’s came about, but it becomes uncomfortable watching him screw over good people to use other people’s ideas to make him rich. Business grad students might find seeing this film advantageous and interesting, but for us, it’s nostalgic, but not all that tasty. Is the story of Ray a crock? The filmmakers say, that’s up to you.