Like its subject, the man who took McDonald's from a single burger shop to a globe-straddling child-fattener, John Lee Hancock's The Founder can't stop selling. The first fast-food kitchen, set up in 1953 by the solemn McDonald brothers in San Bernardino, gets celebrated here as rousingly as John Glenn's first orbit in Hidden Figures. "If there's time to lean, there's time to clean!" the brothers bark at their teenage fry cooks. Rather than time-is-money killjoys whose assembly-line efficiency is ushering us toward our automated no-job future, the McDonalds (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) come across as eager dreamers protecting a vision.
Their operation dazzles Ray Kroc -- Michael Keaton, in squirrely true-believer mode -- and he soon finds himself selling it right back to the McDonald brothers, spouting ad-man poetry like it's the received Word. He tells them that he sees a new American trinity: the church, the flag, the Golden Arches. Keaton is peppery and persuasive as the guy you can't quite trust but are happy to have on your side. Often, early on, Carter Burwell's chiming score and Hancock's man-with-a-dream storytelling side with Kroc's capitalistic sermons.
The film smartly honors the relentless belief of the bullshitter. Hancock and his screenwriter, Robert D. Siegel, sprinkle on the schmaltz to suggest the way Kroc sold McDonald's to its inventors, to his franchisees, even to himself. Once Kroc discovers how much money he could be making without them, the brothers learn a dark truth of American life: Every Mr. Potter believes he's actually George Bailey.