You may think that two brothers, Mac and Dick McDonald, founded the famous hamburger chain. In a way, you would be right.
On the other hand, this movie shows us how a salesman on the make, Ray Kroc, turned the McDonalds’ single burger store into an international dining phenomenon.
In this movie, Kroc, played well by Michael Keaton, is a 52-year-old Willie Loman in waiting when he drives from the Midwest to California to investigate the first McDonald’s hamburger stand in San Bernardino.
The McDonald brothers have devised an efficient, popular, very successful operation; their plan is to operate the single location for the long term.
Kroc admires what the McDonalds have accomplished and decides it is the best opportunity he ever has seen. He signs a contract to open more McDonald’s stores, and he never looks back.
Initially, his style offends the McDonald brothers, and he hangs up the phone when they remonstrate against his plans.
As Kroc’s vision expands and he gains more control of the operation, Dick McDonald objects and hangs up the phone on Kroc.
The movie suggests that the McDonalds are better human beings than Ray Kroc, which undoubtedly is true. But successful innovators succeed in part because they brush all obstacles out of the way. For Kroc this means divorcing a conventional wife, breaking with his small-town friends, and steamrolling the McDonalds, who are never really interested in changing their original business.
As Kroc becomes more successful, his focus and confidence sharpen. He learns how to recruit ambitious franchise owners, how to reduce operations costs and how to enrich himself by changing his contract with the McDonalds, grabbing more and more control of the business along the way.
The movie is interesting for its discussion of how the expansion of a single innovative resaurant disrupted an industry of small operators (a story we have seen again and again in the last 50 years) and for its examination of what it takes for an ambitious person to transform himself into a captain of industry.