- Written by
- Steven Knight
- Directed by
- John Wells
- Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl
We have it on good authority that the actors of Burnt – a fairly edible cast indeed – binged on Michelin-starred meals during the filming of the moody-foodie movie. The hunky Bradley Cooper enjoyed thinly sliced grilled meat, the luminous Sienna Miller spooned beef sauce as if it were soup and Sam Keeley judged the turbot as "stunning."
Well, it's nice that someone got fed. Because what happened between meals on the set resulted in some bad bouillabaisse indeed. Although rich in cast, the bad-boy-chef dramedy Burnt is unremarkable otherwise. Lots of quick cuts and kitchen close-ups – of gas stoves, buttery saucepans and stock characters concentrating preciously on haute cuisine – and lots of unmoving melodrama. "If it's not perfect, you throw it away," says Cooper's plate-throwing chef Adam Jones. Pity director John Wells doesn't aspire to the same level of quality control.
And pity that Cooper isn't given much to work with here. (Although aren't the best chefs supposed to be able to whip up a gourmet meal with shoe leather, plum sauce and one brown egg?) Where Cooper's troubled lead characters in American Sniper and Silver Linings Playbook are complicated, Burnt's Adam Jones is just a guy in a movie: Drug-free and sober for "two years, two weeks and six days," the disgraced rock-star chef seeks rebound and redemption in England after a previous Paris meltdown – a very buttery one, no doubt.
Arriving in London with nothing but a set of kitchen knives and a bad reputation, our cocky/jerkish American sets to assembling a crack crew of cookers. There's a young, talented but unproven Irishman (Keeley), an unrepentant ex-con (Riccardo Scamarcio), an apparently forgiving sous chef done wrong by Jones back in Paris (Omar Sy) and a talented single mother and reluctant romantic foil (an excellent, bob-haired Miller). It's quite the white-smock brigade, and the way chef Jones rounds them up is right out of The Dirty Dozen. Unfortunately Wells, though associated with the stellar television ensemble casts of ER and The West Wing, doesn't spend a lot of time on any of them except for Miller's Helene.
What the director busies himself with instead is an uninspired subplot complication involving a pair of French roughs who are after Jones for unpaid drug-related debts. The chef has a high-paid new gig and a well-funded friend who's willing to lend him money, and yet he refuses to pay off the thugs. Why not? No reason, really.
The most interesting performances come from Daniel Bruhl (as proper and precise Tony, a gay restaurant owner who gives his kitchen away to a chef he admires for more than his foie gras), Emma Thompson (as Jones's wise therapist) and Matthew Rhys (as a competing chef whose compassion is commendable).
The plot has to do with Jones's single-minded pursuit of a prestigious three-star rating from the Michelin Guide, an international taste-making institution. The chef throws tantrums like a tennis star and much too rarely tosses up a bon mot such as "Apologize to the turbot, because it died in vain." (Ah, fish humour, we haddock coming.)
Also dying in vain are the best efforts of Jones's staff and would-be friends. The chef doesn't treat them well; his perfectionism does not extend to personal relationships or even common decency.
And yet most of the people around the edgy kitchen general truly seem to care about him. It is doubtful audiences will warm to Cooper's character or this film, though. The chef stresses flashy food he hopes is so brilliantly orgasmic that diners will stop eating it in mid-chomp, their taste buds tingling in astonishment. The routine Burnt will have viewers stopping all right – and sending the unimaginative serving back to the kitchen and into the dumpster where it belongs.