Directed by John Wells
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy
Film review by Kieran Freemantle
Burnt has all the ingredients you would expect to make a Michelin star film, an ensemble cast, a screenplay from a celebrated writer that was on the 2007 Blacklist and a director who has done solid work on film and television. Despite these qualities Burnt fails to live up to the standards we would expect.
Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) was a Michelin two-star chef who trained with the best in Paris and the heir to his mentor’s top Parisian restaurant. After losing it all to drink and drugs, Adam enacts a self-imposed penance in New Orleans. When completed Adam moves to London to re-start his cooking career, taking over the kitchen of an ailing restaurant, recruiting a team of talented chefs and aims for a third Michelin star. But Adam’s past, demons and his self-destructive nature all stand in its way.
As well as Bradley Cooper, Burnt has the talents of Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy, Emma Thompson and Alicia Vikander with actors like Uma Thurman and Lily James in minor roles. The acting is the best feature of Burnt which is not much of a surprise. Cooper easily portrays Adam’s arrogance in both his skills as a chef and his abilities to get what he wants, coming across as a bit of a douchebag, yet still harbors demons regarding his past and own self-doubts as he tries to achieve perfection. He is both Andrew and Fletcher from Whiplash. Cooper’s American Sniper co-star Miller was also solid and made to look more grounded, having tattoos and having her hair in a short pony-tail: she is still Sienna Miller, a naturally glorious woman, but she is playing a more grounded role of a single mother who is slowly being moulded into Adam’s image. It is nice to see Sy actually given something to do in an English-language film.
Burnt’s main problems comes down to the screenplay by Steven Knight, being a very sloppy piece of work from such an acclaimed writer. The screenplay’s problems are big and small: there were basic logic problems like the owner/maître d' of a restaurant having to explain what the Michelin Guide is to his staff. It is just a lazy way to explain it to the audience because wouldn’t everyone working in a fine dining establishment know what the Michelin Guide is? There is dramatic convenience, such as Adam easily finding some of his old cooks and rivals in a different city, including running into one he screwed over in the middle of Leicester Square. It leads to the question, was Adam originally written to be British but changed to be American to accommodate its star? But the most troubling is the film’s attitude to homosexuality, the main incidents being Adam manipulating another man’s romantic feelings towards him for his own advantage and a throwaway line by Uma Thurman to Cooper saying ‘I’m a lesbian, why did I sleep with you?’
Questionable sexual politics aside Burnt does play like a reasonable, if unremarkable drama for half its running time. But the film falls into a hokum and sentimentality at the half way point, starting with this sickly sweet, twee moment when Adam comes out of with a specially made birthday cake for a little girl: it was so sappy due to the way it was directed, written and acted, having the unfortunate trope of having a very precocious child in the mix. Burnt goes downhill from there, having forcible emotional reveals and piling all the emotion and suspends at the end as everything collides together.
The issues of Burnt’s writing and its hokey themes is through the Adam’s character arc. What Adam wants is a third Michelin Star, what he needs is to confront his demons and embrace his colleagues as family. By itself this arch would be fine, it is a basic foundation of screenwriting, but Knight and John Wells handle it with as little subtly as possible, believing the audience is too dumb to get the message. The ending of the chefs coming together and Adam accepting them is more cheesy then a pound of brie.
Burnt can obviously compared to last year's Chef and to a lesser extent the Pixar Ratatouille. Burnt was originally titled "Chef" before Jon Favreau beat the Weinstein Company to the punch. Chef was a film about a chef returning to his roots after his creativity is hindered, acting as a metaphor to Favreau's directing career, a cathartic experience for him, as well as a story about Favreau's character connecting with his son and exampling the positive and negative effects of social media. Chef was much richer because of it. Even the cooking scenes in Chef were better, making the food looking absolutely mouth-watering. As like Chef and Ratatouille, Burnt has a rivalry subplot which ends on a reconciliation of some sort and Adam is seen as an old fashioned chef having to battle people who use more scientific methods.
The cast do their best, particularly Mr. Cooper, they were working with an uninspired screenplay filled with shortcuts and a rudimentary character arc. Despite Adam’s drug problems and his attempts to get back on top, the stakes did not feel very high. [Pun very much intended].
For a film about fine dining it has the oddest product placement for Burger King.
Want to read more film reviews?