Burnt and all the images you see in this review are owned by The Weinstein Company
Directed by John Wells
Is Bradley Cooper going to be the next Leonardo DiCaprio? Seriously, the guy has been nominated THRICE for best actor, and lost it every time! Well after the overwhelming success that was American Sniper, the man is back to star in a movie about a guy who’s probably just as intense! Will Mr. Cooper’s foray into food porn and Gordon Ramsey mimicry be just what he needs to clench that Oscar gold that he has been denied for the last three years, or is this yet another missed opportunity for one of Hollywood’s most prominent actors? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the world renowned chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) who is getting back into the game after completely flaming out a couple of years back. The movie isn’t too specific about how he lost everything other than it involved drugs, but he’s been clean for quite some time now and is ready to claw his way back up the ladder. Well… by climb his way up, I mean he bullies a friend of his Tony (Daniel Bruhl) into making him head chef of his already prestigious restaurant, but that’s beside the point! He’s getting back some old friends like Michel (Omar Sy) who he screwed over in the past and wants to make amends with and Max (Riccardo Scamarcio) who just got out of jail for… something. It probably involved beating someone up over food. On top of his old friends who he’s getting to work in his new kitchen, he also has some new talent like David (Sam Keeley) who’s about as naïve as he is talented and Helene (Sienna Miller) who’s as stubborn as she is talented. With this ragtag group of super chefs, Adam plans to prove himself as one of the world’s greatest chefs by winning a prestigious award (three stars in the Michelin Guide book) which has already been won by his rival Reece (Matthew Rhys). Will Adam achieve his goal and finally find redemption for his past transgressions, or has he made too many mistakes that he needs to make up for first? What else must he struggle to learn on the road to recovery? Will Bradley Cooper finally get that Oscar he’s been looking for!?
This movie succeeds more than it doesn’t by taking a somewhat novel approach to its storytelling. That said, I think this very same approach that makes this movie stand out is also the root cause of most of its issues. What this movie has is momentum. There MIGHT be a scene or two here and there that takes things down a notch, but for the most part it never stops moving and never drops its pace. Now this isn’t shot in one take or filmed like a Neveldine and Taylor movie, but it still manages to have that sense of speed and intensity without the need for gimmicks or over the top filmmaking that you usually associate with high octane no holds barred films. This doesn’t feel the need to dwell on Bradley Cooper’s tragic back story. Hell, it barely has time to focus on Bradley Cooper’s tragic CURRENT stories, what with his road to recovery, his rivalry with another chef, or even the somewhat love interest taking a back seat to what’s really important to everyone on screen. Like the characters in the movie, there are more important things to worry about and that’s what’s happening in the kitchen. The biggest crises, the best cinematography, and the most engaging performances, all take place in this one location and the movie milks these scenes for all they’re worth.
While I do think this approach is what kept this movie from feeling cliché or overly familiar, it also leads to what doesn’t work about this movie and that’s the story itself. Aside from Bradley Cooper (and Sienna Miller I guess), no one in this film is properly developed beyond very basic elements. These include the best friend who forgives Bradley Cooper for his awful behavior in the past, the chef who’s SO HARDCORE that he went to jail, the wide eyed diamond in the rough, the lesbian food critic who Bradley Cooper turned straight for a night…
None of these characters are fleshed out or developed beyond the one scene they’re introduced in and maybe one other scene at the very end if they’re lucky. On top of that, almost every single subplot in this movie is absolutely disposable to the point of being distracting. There’s a part where he gets a protégé of sorts and crashes at his apartment but it’s never brought up again and the character just fades into the background. I don’t even know at what point in the movie Bradley Cooper stops living with the guy (and his girlfriend who only gets one scene), and they never really get back to that kid until the very end. Even when he does come back it feels completely token and without any real significance and his final triumph (if you can call it that) doesn’t feel earned at all. This is just one example of how the movie not only has shallow characters but how the movie just doesn’t even bother getting into the stories it bothers to set up. The psychiatrist Bradley Cooper is seeing, the chef who was just released from prison, the maître d’s dying Dad, and so many other small parts in this movie just don’t feel like they have a purpose here other than to fill out a narrative they found out too late was too short. The only one of these that works really well in the movie is Michel’s resolution and that’s because the character being forced into the background like everyone else works to his (and the film’s) advantage for what he ultimately does at the end of the movie. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s actually a pretty great gut punch moment.
The overarching plot itself is fairly easy to follow (Bradley Cooper wants the best damn restaurant ever), but the movie can be a bit confusing at points at least in terms of what the stakes are. His first night apparently ends in disaster, but you really wouldn’t know that until he starts to scream at everyone. There is zero indication that anyone out in the in the restaurant is complaining about the food or has a problem with it which means there’s no build up to his shouting matches and therefore it doesn’t sell very well when he does go nuts. Nothing really feels as important as the characters make it out to be, and the stuff we would normally care about in a movie like this is pretty much ignored or barely present.
One area where it does build up a decent amount of tension and weight is the idea of getting three Michelin stars which is apparently a real thing. The Michelin Guide is one of the most prestigious guide books when it comes to restaurants, and yes we ARE indeed talking about the company that’s known for making tires. They spend enough time building it up that I genuinely get why this is important to someone like Adam Jones which is more than can be said about most of the other arcs in this story. It does get a bit silly though when it turns out that this organization who sends out PROFESSIONAL AND SUPER SECRET FOOD CRITICS (which is true) apparently has them all do the EXACT SAME THING so that it’s super easy to spot these supposedly super-secret food critics. I haven’t found anything to verify if these rituals are true (REALLY doesn’t seem to be the case) but while watching the movie it was clear that giving them obvious and easily identifiable routines was something they had to throw in there so that everyone would know when to give it their A game and also to mount up the tension. Still, you get the gravity behind their presence and what it means for Bradley Cooper and the other cooks. That kind of sums up the movie overall. EVERYTHING they do here is in service to a single goal and that is to make gourmet cooking seem thrilling and intense. Sure enough, they do succeed in that goal but it’s to the detriment of everything else including the overall story, the characters that make up this world, and the message at the end.
Despite all that, this is an enjoyable movie to watch because of how well the cooking scenes are realized. Apparently joining the army or volunteering for Doctors Without Borders is child’s play compared to working in a high priced restaurant. It feels a bit stagey and over the top with everyone moving like they’re in an elaborate musical number and with Bradley Cooper going full on Gordon Ramsey on them, but it works at providing tension and leaving the audience bewildered at the skill and dedication it take s to work somewhere like that. Those scenes alone which make up almost half the movie are worth seeing even if everything else surrounding those scenes aren’t anything special.
So what do we take away from this? Well, it has something unique about it (its constant movement and forward momentum in service of putting us in the place of these chefs) but then relies on that gimmick entirely to carry the movie. Sometimes this approach can work with movies such as the Crank films or even Mad Max: Fury Road, but I think what ends up holding Burnt back is that it’s not as committed to that as it should be. It keeps introducing subplots all over the place, but then never lets them play out in a satisfying way which makes them utterly pointless to the story (with the exception of Michel’s subplot). It wanted to be more than just an intense look at the lives of high end chefs, but thought that a token effort at being more would be sufficient. So if you want to do one thing really well, then do that one thing really well. Adding stuff on top of it MIGHT seem like a good idea to make it seem like your movie has more substance, but when those aspects are as slap shod as they are in this, it pulls the entire movie down with it. Is it worth seeing? Maybe not in a theater, but it’s still interesting enough for at least one watch at some point, especially if you can skip over some of those undercooked moments.
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