Directed by John Lee Hancock
Written by Robert D. Siegel
This was a film that I initially dismissed as a celebration of one man creating perhaps the most disgusting food establishment in the world. My opinion was swayed by a passing comment; a mate of mine is a plumber, and knowing that I enjoy film, he asked if I’d seen it, and proceeded to tell me how it was about this man, Ray Kroc, who essentially stole the business model from the original McDonald brothers. The Bill Gates of catering. I was immediately intrigued as I obviously didn’t know this story at all.
It is immediately obvious from the opening scene that Ray is desperate. We begin hearing his practised monologue, desperately trying to sell milkshake dispensers to restaurants who are struggling to sell milkshakes as it is. Not only is he financially in trouble, his marriage isn’t going too hot either as his wife becomes understandably tired of Ray’s constant business trips that never seem to amount to anything.
Capitalism may be the world we live in, but this film is an excellent example of how greed and deception are inherently a part of business. Ray is desperate, and when he stumbles upon the McDonald twins and their revolutionary ‘fast-food’ operation, dollar signs replace his pupils. What begins as an awkward but tolerable relationship between Ray and the brothers spirals out of control as Ray takes more from the brothers, and as he does it he increases his control over the business.
As Ray is expanding rapidly, much to the disgust of the brothers, he can’t figure out why he isn’t making any profit. A chance meeting leads to a strong friendship, as the man Ray meets tells him precisely why he isn’t making money. The answer? Real estate. Own the land the restaurants are on, and that company is no longer affiliated with the McDonald brothers, meaning the contract they signed together now means nothing. This was the pivotal moment where Ray was able to dance around this contract, allowing him to do what he pleased with the McDonald’s name and famous ‘golden arches’, neither of which were his ideas.
Hindsight is a great thing and it is hard to think that a man like Dick would let a man like this into his life. But Keaton plays the greasy salesman perfectly, and after a terrific, sociopathic sales pitch invoking patriotism and guilt, Dick lets his ambitions of spreading their product get the better of him as he unwittingly signs a contract with Ray that we know will cause only problems.
The interesting thing about the brothers is that they had values. They stood for something – they had tried to expand (which was Ray’s brilliant original suggestion) and had failed due to a lack of overall oversight and quality. They were not happy that these other outlets weren’t following their values, one restaurant even had a completely different menu. These men were interested the art of making food. They were not interested in money.
I mention these values as it is a little twisted that the McDonalds we know today couldn’t stand farther away from the brothers’ values. It is a sickening place that underpays its often extremely young employees, it is a recognisable commodity everywhere in the world despite possessing a truly repugnant nature of what business and food should be about. Not only that, but they set the tone for other fast-food chains, most of which are just as bad, if not worse.
The two brothers, as characters, aren’t incredibly deep, but they are superbly acted and their opposing personalities make for some entertaining scenes, especially as Nick Offerman is involved. That man can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. As for Ray, Keaton delivers; he doesn’t overact but he also doesn’t phone it in. His character’s progression into more and more of a greedy egomaniac is believable because of the subtle way in which Keaton increases the assertiveness of his character. He changes before our eyes from an opportunist into a ruthless businessman.
Despite knowing the rough story, I was interested throughout this film as it really depicts what is truly wrong with capitalism and business in general. Keaton is better here than he was in Birdman, and he certainly has a much more interesting character to play. This is certainly an interesting story that will forever remain relevant as long as we live in a cash-based society. And unless we are living in the world of Mr Robot, I can’t see that fact changing any time soon. So while this may not be an exciting film, it is relevant and will stay that way for a long time.
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