Celebrity chefs are the new rock stars. People queue to see them, they sell out venues, command very high “performance fees” and have the attitude to pull it all off. In Burnt, our celebrity chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) has fallen from grace and is plotting his comeback. What he craves is power, infamy, and perfection. Burnt is reviewed after the jump.
Adam Jones was a man at the top of his game. Running his mentor’s restaurant in Paris, he achieved two Michelin stars. Then, things went very wrong. Jacked up on substances and in debt to the wrong sort of people, he crashed out big time, taking the restaurant and the careers of others down with him. Two years on and sober, he travels to London to try to rebuild his career and gain the coveted 3rd Michelin star. Adam reconnects with Tony (Daniel Brühl) and convinces him to let him takeover the restaurant he is struggling to run in his father’s hotel. Adam also seeks out other chefs from his past, as well as recruiting up-and-coming sous chef Helene (Sienna Miller). He has the restaurant and the team, but getting back to the top isn’t going to be an easy task.
The problem with Burnt is that it just isn’t very good. A cringe-worthy opening act in which we learn of Adam’s past sins and establish his new life is leaden with clichés, and edited so frenetically that it’s unpleasant to watch. The film settles into a rhythm after once Adam is back in the kitchen, and although it becomes more watchable it doesn’t distinguish itself in any particular way.
Adam’s tale of redemption is something we’ve seen many, many times before. Why should we care about this guy? He’s an angry white dude who stuffed up and is trying to redeem himself, often resorting to the same bullying and scheming tactics that probably contributed to his downfall in the first place. It’s hard to cheer for the protagonist, when he’s a stereotypical alpha asshole. The roles for women are limited here – it would have been refreshing to see more women in the realm of a professional kitchen. You might claim that cooking at this level is a man’s world, and there is truth in that. However, that’s the wonderful thing about creative license – you can change things up, you just have to want to.
In an interview with Yahoo, Cooper reveals that he spent time with Michelin starred chefs Marco Pierre White, Marcus Wareing, and Gordon Ramsay, and he adapted traits from all three into his character. Cooper must be given credit for his performance, as his studying clearly paid off. He’s every inch the intense, driven, egotistic chef. It was nice to see Sienna Miller in a role that wasn’t “wife”, and her character was the most interesting in the film – a passionate, talented, working solo-mother. It is therefore particularly disappointing that her character is shortchanged by the writing in the later stages of the film.
The film is at is most enjoyable when we are in the kitchen, seeing the large team of chefs work together to create food that looks more like art. It’s interesting to watch how services play out and the film does a good job of showing the different roles in a professional kitchen. The problem is, this isn’t enough. If you want this, you can watch countless restaurant/chef/food documentaries, TV series, and reality shows. The food porn and kitchen action isn’t enough compensation for having to spend time with such an uninteresting, unpleasant protagonist.
Side note – for those genuinely interested in a look “behind the scenes” at the life of a chef, check out Anthony Bourdain’s gritty Kitchen Confidential.
By Sam McCosh
Director: John Wells
Writer(s): Steven Knight (screenplay), Michael Kalesniko (story)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander
Runtime: 100 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: October 22, 2015, USA: October 29, 2015