Michael Keating does a brilliant thing in his portrayal of Ray Kroc, the fellow whose unfettered ambition made McDonald’s the multinational billion-dollar fast-food chain that it is today. You want to despise him, it goes without saying (hey, this is Byron Shire – we are so above such crassness), and there are no punches pulled in showing how Kroc never once deviated from the path of self-interest. But in John Lee Hancock’s provocative, insightful and non-judgmental movie you can’t help but be just a tiny bit on Ray’s side, without ever being able to dispel the thought that, at the bottom line, he represents the devouring underbelly of go get ’em capitalism – of the ‘American dream’ itself.
Kroc was a career salesman, driving around Louisiana flogging milkshake-makers and barely keeping his head above water. When told of an unusually big order from the upright, unambitious McDonald brothers’ hamburger joint in California, his curiosity was pricked. The McDonalds’ revolutionary approach was to have the meal ordered and served in half a minute, while at the same time discouraging unwelcome clientele by having no juke box or waitresses on rollerskates. Kroc’s visionary understanding of the speed of delivery concept was to turn his life around and, ultimately, it went hand in glove with the instant gratification demanded of the West’s post-WWII tastes.
So who is Kroc? A man ahead of his time? A true believer in the uplifting, moral rightness of catering to the needs of the masses? Or just a greed-merchant blinkered by his drive to succeed and to prove himself better than all those who had doubted him, who had looked down on him?
It is a fascinating observation of a man of contradictions whose conviction that maximising his profit margin was linked as a matter of faith to the Flag, the family and middle-American wholesomeness – his homage to the very name ‘McDonalds’ is profoundly simple but true. The period (1950s) is beautifully created, the performances outstanding and the story more nuanced than you might expect.