“Burnt” Movie Review


     Following the success of Jon Favreau’s 2014 film “Chef”, it might actually be a little to soon for another film hitting the big screen sharing many of the same attributes.  That being said, director John Wells (“August: Osage County”) new film, “Burnt”, gives us plenty to like, even if the food porn genre is now becoming a bit cliched.  Remember, an additional film about an up and coming Chef and his rise to the top also came out during late 2014 and while “The Hundred-Foot Journey” had a slightly different focus than “Chef” and “Burnt”, all three share an obvious trait in common.  Copious amounts of food and its preparation.  And while these scenes serve a similar function to action sequences in action films, it’s what happens in between all of this high end cooking that determines the quality of the actual film and story.  After all, if all we needed was to learn the proper way to grill a filet mignon, we would simply turn on the Food Network in our own living rooms.  To that end, “Burnt” delivers a group of characters in which some seem obligatory, while others possess a legitimate and original purpose within the story.

     Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, a one time two star Michelin Chef who made his name in Paris, but now suffers the effects of a downward spiral caused by various addictions.  When we first catch up with him, we learn all of these things are now in his past.  Adam has arrived in London and begins mending fences with a number of Chefs and restaurant managers who had seem him at his worst, but know all to well the undeniable talent he possesses.  Wells doesn’t seem interested in filling in the backstory, as the script written by Steven Knight (“The Hundred-Foot Journey”) glosses over where exactly Jones went wrong by having tough looking mob goons show up every once and a while demanding money, as well as chance run ins with former employees he had burnt bridges with in the past.  Even the method in which he gets his redeeming head Chef job in London is questionable when he calls in a favor to a famous London food critic to pay a surprise visit and tells the manager, Tony (Daniel Bruhl) of whom he has an obvious rocky past, if he doesn’t allow him to cook for the critic, his restaurant is finished.  A good point apparently, since Tony takes up Adam on his offer.

     Adam’s stated goal from the beginning is to gain his third star as a Michelin Chef, a process that in itself is actually one of the more interesting tidbits in the film.  Without warning, two men, normally older and unassuming will reserve a table at the restaurant they are testing.  Tony thinks he has all of the signs of determining if the two men are there to make their official critique, all the way down to the fact they will purposely put one of their forks on the ground to see how long it will take the wait staff to notice and furnish the guest a new fork.  Adam knows the routine as well and in preparation for the day they show up, he runs his kitchen with the demeanor of a Drill Sergeant during the first week of Basic Training.  Regardless of his outside of work relationship with any given person, Adam demands perfection.  After each night concludes, he gathers each Chef and cook together and proceeds to dress them down in exactly the same manner that J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher character in “Whiplash” would scold Miles Teller’s Andrew for being slightly out of tempo.  Save to say, it’s amazing anyone would want to work for this guy.

   Of course characters like this need a love interest in order for him to maintain proper motivation during crucial and high pressure situations right?  Early in the film, Adam discovers and ultimately hires an up and coming Sou Chef named Helene (Sienna Miller), offering her a financial package she can’t turn down being a struggling single mom.  Considering Adam’s womanizing history, I was surprised a character like this was even necessary.  Opting to have a female under Adam’s tutelage would have been just as effective minus the needless emotional connection.  It just begs the question why does a female character need to hook up with the lead male character in order to succeed?  Perhaps the filmmakers thought a new relationship would soften Adam up in the eyes of the audience, but the reality is there really isn’t much of a redeeming quality in anything he does while spending nearly every scene cementing his unlikeable nature.

     But there is the food though.  Funny thing is, the plates Adam is sending out to hungry customers, while artfully put together, likely won’t leave them very full.  In addition, I wonder if the average audience member would ever be able to afford a $500 meal at a restaurant like the one depicted in “Burnt”.  One of the things I found so appealing about Favreau’s “Chef” was at the end of the day, he was making Cuban Sandwiches that cost $5 or $6.  Something anyone could have access to.  That aside, Wells does a superior job recreating the immense pressure in the high stakes world of cooking.  Same goes for Cooper’s performance, as he succeeds in selling the passion and drive Adam possesses, as well as the meticulous attention to detail necessary to out do yourself on a consistent basis.  It seems as though when these Chefs succeed, others will simply duplicate what they did, forcing the great ones to constantly reinvent themselves.  Cooper’s character, though tremendously flawed, exhibits the kind of in your face confidence necessary to achieve at the highest levels.  We know this because he doesn’t seem to care who he steps on in order to get there.  GRADE: B-