I’m not really a big fan of cooking shows or especially the latest craze of cooking reality shows like MasterChef, but I have seen a few of these to know what they are about. And the reason I am bringing that up is because the film Burnt, is a bit like watching one of these pressure cooking competitions, with a lead chef doing his best Gordon Ramsay impression amidst personal breakdowns and turmoil.
Perhaps I am oversimplifying it a little, there is a lot of story taking place through all the kitchen antics – but the passion of food definitely takes centre stage in this drama.
Burnt is about a super-star, double Michelin star winning chef Adam Jones, played by Bradley Cooper, who blew it all through drugs and alcohol and is now trying to get his life back together. Over his time of recovery he has regained his passion for food and a newfound determination for life and success.
Along his downward path into drugs though, he hurt a lot of people in the business who have lost respect for him and now he wants to prove to them and himself that he not only has what it takes to be a fantastic chef, but the best chef there is. The story takes place in London, where Cooper goes on the hunt to convince the son of his former mentor that he is the chef that is needed to turn his restaurant into a Michelin star winning one. Using several re-established connections, he is able to get himself appointed as the head chef of the restaurant and turns things around. He sets out to building the right team of cooks to work around him, including old friends and also a young talented chef, who is also a struggling single mom, played by Sienna Miller who he begins to bond with and form a relationship with.
Initially Jones finds things more difficult than expected, when he realizes the food world has changed and he needs to adapt his methods while also learning to deal with anger and control issues. His past does come back to continuously haunt him and he needs to learn to deal with some if these enemies of his past, while becoming a better person to his fellow cooks.
The story is not the most original, but solidly told by director John Wells (August: Osage County, The Company Men), who does an incredible job at making you hungry with sumptuous shots of amazing food (word of advice – try not to watch this film on an empty stomach). In fact, his direction almost feels like watching one of those cooking shows, with lots of close-ups of food preparation and fast edits to build tension in the kitchen. That’s not to fault the way he tells the story, but it certainly takes a back seat.
The script, written by Steven Knight (Seventh Son, The Hundred Foot Journey) doesn’t provide a lot of motivation to what really triggered Jones’ change of heart and although you become drawn to the character as the movie progresses, you never fully realise all of his motivations because of this. Some of the dialogue can be a little sloppy, with chefs coming across more like mobsters in the way they talk and many of the interesting minor characters never get developed and seem to be more of a revolving door through the movie.
Cooper does a solid job in portraying the role of Jones, though it perhaps doesn’t stretch his talents to the full. He comes off very early in the movie like a Gordon Ramsey character who shouts and swears a lot in criticizing others cooking, but as the movie continues, you move into familiar Cooper territory, with a wry confidence and a friendly demeanor in his character, like we’ve seen in most of his film to date. The director clearly expects a lot from Cooper, as he makes him the central character for almost the entire movie and it is probably Cooper who keeps the move together through much of its makeshift plot. The movie also stars Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Matthew Rhys, Riccardo Scamarcio, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman and Emma Thompson, who all fulfill their roles suitably, but as mentioned, don’t get much screen time to really stand out.
One thing the movie does well, is exude a passion for coking and that certainly comes across through not just the aforementioned direction, but also the way the characters talk about their cooking. The screenwriter clearly did his research in ensuring that when the characters talk about food, they know what they are talking about and doing. The movie moves along at a steady pace throughout, though the end is quite abrupt, with some massive character developments in Jones’ life seemingly rushed over to bring the movie to a conclusion as fast as possible.
Burnt is a film with lots of passion, but ultimately turns out to be more of an advertisement for fine cooking and misses the mark on telling its story. If you have a passion for food and cooking, you may want to watch this film just for that alone.
Last Updated: February 9, 2016