Is one of the requirements to become a chef being a major dickhead? Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl and Academy Award winner Emma Thompson star in Burnt.
Cast of Characters:
Adam Jones – Bradley Cooper
Helene – Sienna Miller
Michel – Omar Sy
Tony – Daniel Bruhl
Max – Riccardo Scamarcio
David – Sam Keeley
Anne Marie – Alicia Vikander
Reece – Matthew Rhys
Sara – Lily James
Simone – Uma Thurman
Dr. Rosshilde – Emma Thompson
Director – John Wells
Screenplay – Steven Knight
Producer – Stacy Sher, Erwin Stoff & John Wells
Rated R for language throughout
Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) was once a superstar chef whose crash-and-burn lifestyle of drugs, alcohol and excess caused him to lose his restaurant. But now, a decade later, he’s back and determined to make a comeback. His quest for redemption leads him to opening a restaurant in the hotel of an old friend, Tony (Daniel Bruhl), where he and his new team of chefs – Helene (Sienna Miller), Michel (Omar Sy), Max (Riccardo Scamarcio) and David (Sam Keeley) – will strive to obtain the highly-coveted three-star rating from the Michelin Red Guide.
Judging from the number of chefs I’ve caught on TV throughout the 21st century, I’m convinced most of the hotshot ones need a good deal of therapy to help soothe their profane, explosive, OCD behavior that always goes on the fritz whenever one of their underlings doesn’t frost a cupcake the right way.
Burnt, originally titled Chef before Jon Favreau’s film claimed it, is a well-made feature that is just as sleek and polished as the gourmet restaurant it mostly takes place in, but is ultimately nothing more than a cliche-riddled story of redemption that’s so by-the-numbers you could leave the theater midway through, hit up a nearby Burger King that Bradley Cooper’s Adam Jones is so fond of, come back and still be able to figure out every single key plot turn you missed.
That’s ’cause you’ve seen this kind of story a thousand times before.
It’s not the rehashed story that’s the problem. The redemption angle could’ve worked if we had a genuine rooting interest in Adam, but even though Cooper is characteristically charming and charismatic here, director John Wells (longtime producer/showrunner for The West Wing, ER and Shameless) and writer Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Locke) don’t provide much insight into what caused Jones’s downfall, nor do they explain why he seems to be even more of an insufferable prick sober than when he was drunk and stoned all the time (Wells previously dropped the ball with another assortment of irritating, substance-less characters in August: Osage County). What little we do get is through a series of revisited burned bridges. Their sole purpose for being in the film is to flesh out Cooper’s character, but there’s hardly any substance to be found in these encounters.
Jones is the type of guy that must be so good in bed that he can make lesbians such as Uma Thurman’s food critic sleep with him, and then later on wonder why in the hell she did such a thing. Oh, and what’s a overly cliched film without the obligatory “The – insert place (here a kitchen) – is the only place I felt I ever belonged.” line?
This is what passes as development in this film.
I kinda wonder what Knight would’ve done differently had it been him handle both writing and directing duties. His last film, Locke, was a great conflicted character-driven drama that literally was nothing more than 90 minutes of Tom Hardy driving his car and talking on the phone with various characters. He also wrote The Hundred-Foot Journey, which I still contend was an enjoyable little film, though that’s thanks mostly to the cast and not Knight’s script which was burdened just a bit by its preciousness.
Speaking of The Hundred-Foot Journey, remember the plot to that one? What was it? Oh, yeah, the pursuit of the third Michelin star. Yes, Knight is ripping off his own material.
Like Locke’s confined setting, Burnt is at its strongest when it stays confined to the kitchen. Adriano Goldman’s well-choreographed camera movements capture the intensity and chaos of the kitchen, and Bradley Cooper is at his charismatic best, with one of the film’s highlights being him forcing Sienna Miller to apologize to a fish that died in vain.
But when it comes to developing these characters outside of the kitchen, Burnt is unfortunately under-cooked (I figured all the other reviewers were throwing out crappy cooking puns, so why not hop on the bandwagon). The supporting cast features an array of more than capable players, but the only noteworthy exceptions out of the bunch are Matthew Rhys and Sienna Miller. Daniel Bruhl’s solid supporting work contains a wasted side-story of his character harboring a secret crush on Adam that feels out of place. Omary Sy is equally wasted in a role simply used for the film’s cheap plot twist you see coming from a mile away. Uma Thurman and Alicia Vikander pop up in pointless cameos (Knight does nothing with the drug dealer subplot involving Cooper and Vikander), and as good as Miller is here, her fine work takes a hit with the forced romantic angle between her and Cooper that comes out of nowhere.
I guess if he can make lesbians sleep with him, how hard can it be to get a woman that can’t stand the sight of him to start making out with him at the snap of a finger?
Also, and this is just a side nitpick, one character refers to the three star Michelin system as one star being the equivalent of Luke Skywalker, two the “guy that Alec Guinness played” and three Yoda. So explain to me how someone can know both Luke and Yoda, know their ranking within the Jedi Order, yet not know who Obi-Wan Kenobi is? I’d expect him to know Obi-Wan’s name more than Guinness’s.
While Bradley Cooper certainly gives it his all, and the supporting cast’s effort is noticeable as well, Burnt tries to wring a compelling redemption story out of its unsavory character, but misses the mark in doing so, instead settling for a checkoff list of cliches and lackluster character depth. The portions in the kitchen spice things up a bit and the prepared dishes by Mario Batali and Marcus Wareing look great, but overall, this is one dish you should skip.
I give Burnt a C- (★★).