A SOLID RECIPE THAT’S BURNT DRY
Serving up an appetite for drama and seeking a recipe for the theatrics, movies about the culinary world of aspiring chefs, bustling restaurants and the delicate art of food have become a savory experience for some movie viewers. From the animated tale of rat chef in Pixar’s Ratatouille, the culinary diversity of “east meets west” in The Hundred Foot Journey, and the food truck business of Carl Casper in the comedy drama Chef, there’s been plenty foods films in recent years to quench your ravenous hunger for theatrical pieces of the culinary world. Dishing up another course serving, The Weinstein Company orders up a new tale of an aspiring chef in the world of food with the movie Burnt. Does this latest movie taste delicious or should be sent back to its kitchen?
After a disastrous falling-out in Paris, inviting alcohol, drugs, and womanizing into his destructive lifestyle, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is eager to return the world of high class eating and revitalize his reputation of arrogance and excellence after spending a few years doing self-penance in New Orleans. Arriving in London, Adam persuades restaurateur Tony (Danel Bruhl) to take him on once again, looking to build a new name and a world-class cuisine establishment. Out to conquer local rival Reece (Matthew Rhys), Adam builds his team of chefs, collectively calling upon talents, including Michel (Omar Sy), an old friend that Adam burnt long ago, and Helene (Sienna Miller), a gifted sous chef. In pursuit of an obtaining another coveted Michelin star, Adam devotes everything to the cause, finding his patience tested at every turn and challenging his team of chefs to achieve culinary perfection.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Two of my favorite things: food and movies. Everyone loves to eat and mostly everyone likes watching movies. Now put the two together and you get a great combination. Movies about food or rather dramatized features about food are stimulating to me, acquiring the visual representation of a savory appetite and usually totes an intriguing tale. I’ve seeing and liked all the culinary movies I listed above and, after seeing the trailer for Burnt, I was curious to see the movies. Of course, the premise looked interesting as well as it cast of actors (especially headlining someone like actor Bradley Cooper). However, I missed this movie in theater and so I decided to rent it (via ITunes). However, in the end, Burnt is a movie that I have to admit left a somewhat vague unsavory taste in my mouth.
Burnt is directed John Wells, who previously directed the movie August: Osage County. In matters of directing, Wells does capture a very visual and pleasing movie for the eyes, aided by frequent cinematographer Adriano Goldman, who definitely shows the glamour of this world (i.e. the fancy prepared dishes and desert displays) as well as showing the hardships of trying to reach perfection as a professional chef. Most impressively (and probably the best scenes in the movie), come from the kitchen, when the chaotic events of dinner service are heightened with the constant bustle of all the chefs preparing the meals. Thanks to editor Nick Moore, these scenes certainly do capture a great sense of frenetic energy of chefs in a professional kitchen environment.
However, the main problem with Burnt I felt was its numerous subplots narrative threads that are dispersed throughout the movie. Wells, along with screenplay writer Steven Knight, take a story, which was a screen story based off of Michael Kaleesniko and makes into a compelling film narrative (on paper). When that same story transfers its narrative to in front of a camera lens is when it becomes problematic. As it is setup to be, Burnt’s story is a character drama, with its central character (Adam Jones) aggressively interacting with other various characters, explaining his past backstory and transpiring events in the present. Unfortunately, while the movie’s running time relatively short (101 minutes), the development and characterization of its cast of characters are “undercooked” (yes I made a cooking pun in my review). Perhaps the movie was original longer to incorporate its many narrative threads, but was most likely trimmed during its final editing, leaving a lot of character building scenes on the cutting room floor. Thus, viewer’s get a bare-boned (and somewhat conventional redemption narrative) story with Burnt that had visual flair with its food, but lacks characterization.
Burnt has a solid cast, including some well-known names popping in and out of the feature. Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper does a good as the Gordon-Ramsay-esque Adam Jones, proving to the have arrogance bravado and dramatic poise as the film’s main character. Its great performance from Cooper, but it’s, more or less, a paint-by-numbers character arc that’s been well played before. Similarly, Sienna Miller does great work in her portrayal of the strong-willed sous-chef Helene, but is pretty much the notable love interest archetype for the somewhat “hot shot / torn artist” role of Adam Jones. Cooper and Miller both on-screen chemistry, but in my opinion shared chemistry as Chris and Taya Kyle in American Sniper than Adam and Helene in Burnt.
Daniel Bruhl’s Tony and Omar Sy’s Michel are delegated to more secondary characters in Burnt, which is fine, but their characters aren’t as fleshed out and aren’t given enough screentime / backstory to fully realize their on-screen personas and development. Along those lines, is the reset of Burnt’s supporting cast, which includes Emma Thompson’s Dr. Rosshilde, a therapist who make sure that Adam stays clean, Matthew Rhys’s Reece, Adam’s longtime rival chef, and Alicia Vikander’s Annie Marie, Adam’s old flame. While most of these interactions are shared with on-screen presences with Cooper’s Jones (to help give insight into his character’s past), these side characters only have several scenes and not enough to leave a lasting impression on their characters themselves, but rather on the talented individual who plays that character. Lastly, there’s brief appearances (and I do mean brief) from actresses Uma Thurman and Lily James.
Service is up in the world of high class cuisines with the movie Burnt. Director John Wells does indeed assemble a classic story of redemption with an impressive cast that highlights that creative, yet nerve-racking kitchen life of working in a top-rated restaurant. Nevertheless, the movie fails as a character drama story, which it aims to be, with too many subplots that are punctured into its already thinned narration to properly developed into something more robust and well-rounded. Thus, my verdict for this film is an iffy-choice. I wouldn’t say to buy the movie unless you’re a big fan of Bradley Cooper or really interested in a cinematic take on the cut-throat world professional culinary chefs. Maybe watch the movie as a rental, but don’t expect it to be an intriguing drama as I did. Basically, in my opinion, Burnt is a solid recipe for a movie that’s sadly burnt dry.
3.0 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Reviewed on February 18th, 2016
Burnt is rated R for language throughout