Michael Keaton is Ray Kroc, a travelling salesman eking out a living hawking milkshake makers to small burger joints across the Midwest in 1954. When he gets an order for an unprecedented six makers from one outlet, he decides to check it out and finds that McDonald's, run by brothers Dick (Offerman) and Mac (Carroll Lynch), have revolutionised the fast food burger: no car hops, no plates, order-to-mouth in thirty seconds. Impressed, Ray offers to manage their franchise but their lack of capitalist drive rankles with the ambitious Ray who moves to wrestle the company away from them…
Biopics like The Social Network and Steve Jobs are the obvious touchstones here: we may dislike the man but admire his ambition and ideas. In an unusual move, Robert D. Siegel's (The Wrestler) script first gets the audience on board with this enthusiastic man before slowly stripping away every likeable element we once admired; while Zuckerberg and Jobs are unlikeable from the off, we're suckered in by Kroc at first and support his plans to grow the franchise despite the small-thinking brothers poo-pooing every attempt he makes. He pities other salesmen, introducing them to franchises. His financial woes (his debilitating contract only allows him to break even) and his problems at home (wife Laura Dern feels neglected) don't help. When she takes his hand in a moment of solidary during a pitch to his disrespecting friends, we’re genuinely happy for him.
Then comes the switcheroo. And it happens slowly, so slowly in fact even when Kroc doesn't something untoward we believe it's just a blip. Kroc cuckolds a business partner (an underused Patrick Wilson) when he moves on his wife (Freaks and Geeks' Linda Cardellini), steals verbatim a self-help guru's message when he makes a speech, names his first franchise outlet McDonald’s #1 (conveniently forgetting the brothers' first San Bernadino outlet), and calls himself The Founder, which he certainly isn't. His nastiness creeps up an audience support turns to the hard done by brothers who find their family business stolen away from them.
The casting of Michael Keaton is an inspired one, tapping into his natural nervous energy. Keaton's performance may not be as twitchy or edgy as Birdman but he's just as magnetic. Offerman and Carroll Lynch are equally watchable as the pair of decent brothers who don't know what they have and don't realise until too late that there's a 'wolf in a henhouse'.