This film was written by Robert Siegel (Big Fan and The Wrestler) and it was directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side and The Rookie), but the names that are of significance are the two, executive producers, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, two brothers who created Miramax in 1979. Miramax rose to become the leader of independent film in the 90’s in terms of box office and awards given. The Walt Disney Company purchased Miramax in 1993. The Weinstein brothers continued working for it. Eventually, the Weinstein brothers left in 2005 allegedly under contentious terms, which resulted in them losing the name Miramax, which was a portmanteau of their parents’ first names.
This film is similarly about two brothers who start a business that becomes successful until a bigger corporation buys them out and essentially takes their family name. In this case, Bob and Harvey Weinstein are represented in Maurice and Richard McDonald, and the Walt Disney Company is represented in Ray Kroc. Maurice and Richard McDonald originated what is now known as the McDonald’s fast food chain. Arguably, McDonald’s is the world’s largest restaurant chain. Ray Kroc was the greedy and overly ambitious businessman who essentially forced it away from them. He did nothing illegal as Disney didn’t. They disputed how they wanted the business to run. Yet, the latter was simply able to manipulate the legal and financial system to overpower the former.
These kinds of disputes happen all the time. Someone will create something either technologically, business-wise or artistically. Someone else will see potential to exploit that creation for profit and will then take steps to wrestle control away from that creator. Sometimes, the creator will be successful in maintaining control, such as in the recent, Oscar-nominated film Joy (2015), or, Golden Globe-winning Big Eyes (2014). Other times, the creator fails, such as in The Social Network (2010) or Dreamgirls (2006).
For most of those movies, with the possible exception of The Social Network, the filmmakers want the audience to be on the side of the creators and not with the person or people who take from the creators. This movie divides its loyalty. Eventually, it comes down to Kroc versus the McDonald brothers. The movie’s loyalty starts with Kroc but by the final third pivots so that its loyalty lies solely with the brothers.
In that regard, it might not be the most perfect example to kick off the Donald Trump presidency, but it comes close. It should be noted that this movie premiered on December 7, 2016, one month after Donald Trump was elected to be the 45th President of the United States, but it was only playing in one theater in Los Angeles. It went into nationwide release, in 1100 theaters, on January 20, 2017, which was the day of Trump’s inauguration.
Oscar-nominee Michael Keaton (Birdman and Spotlight) stars as Ray Kroc, the businessman from Illinois, born in 1902 and who grew up near Chicago. He was working as a traveling salesman in the Midwest in 1954 when he got an order from the McDonald brothers for a half-dozen or so milkshake mixers. Ray visited them at their main shop in San Bernadino, California. He was so impressed with their speedy operation that he became obsessed with turning their burger stand into a franchise.
For the first half of the film, it’s successful with having the audience sympathize with Ray and even empathize for him. Even when he’s having troubles early on with his wife, Ethel, played by Laura Dern (Jurassic Park and Wild), the film still keeps us on Ray’s side. Steadily, things take a turn. As in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Ray goes the way of Jordan Belfort. As in Breaking Bad, Ray goes the way of Walter White. The only exception is Ray never does anything illegal.
However, the ethics and morality are certainly questionable. Yet, some might not lose sympathy or even empathy for Ray, even as he’s running over the McDonald brothers. Some might see the brothers’ downfall as simply the perils of capitalism that may not be desirable but often necessary. Some might even see Ray as the ultimate American embracing one of this country’s early tenets of manifest destiny. Yet, just like Henry Knox in the 18th century ran over the Native tribes, Ray literally took the land and displaced the McDonald brothers.
Of course, this is all buttressed by an amazing performance from Keaton who does just as good, if not better than Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street and Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. Frustration and fear so gracefully and successfully morph into anger and ambition on Keaton’s face. Keaton is yet again Oscar-worthy.
Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation and Fargo) co-stars as Richard McDonald and John Carroll Lynch (American Horror Story and The Drew Carey Show) also co-stars as Maurice McDonald. Half the movie belongs to them and they make great foils for Keaton to bounce off. Great, if brief supporting performances arrive in Linda Cardellini (Bloodline and ER), Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring and Hard Candy) and B. J. Novak (Inglorious Basterds and Saving Mr. Banks) as well.
If one doesn’t think Keaton isn’t all that talented, he also does a very decent rendition of Bing Crosby’s “Pennies From Heaven.” He sings it with aplomb and with arguably better vocals than Ryan Gosling in La La Land.