BURNT. Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman, Alicia VIkander. Directed by John Wells. 100 minutes.Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language).
In ‘Burnt’, romantic comedy staple turned respectable Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper plays superstar chef Adam Jones. There’s something innately pleasurable about watching talented people fulfil their potential, despite the film hewing too closely to the standard, cliché-filled comeback story. It’s not perfect, but it’s slickly made and well-acted enough to entertain hungry viewers.
Disgraced chef Adam Jones, once a two Michelin starred maestro in Paris, completes a self-imposed penance in Louisiana – shucking one million oysters – having sworn off booze, drugs and women. After completing his Herculean task, he makes for London in search of a new restaurant with which he can finally attain his third and ultimate Michelin star.
In London, a whirlwind montage takes us through his process of securing and staffing his latest venture – peppered throughout are clues as to why he left France, and it becomes clear that his addictions to his multiple vices ultimately put him down for the count. After being denied at first by hotelier Tony, with whom he shares some Parisian history, he enlists the help of former flame and restaurant critic Simone to dupe his way into Tony’s kitchen. He re-enlists his sous chef from Paris, Michel, who seems to have left Adam’s betrayal in the past. Adam finds a temporary housing solution and a new recruit in Scottish cook David, and lastly, procures talented but underappreciated chef Helene from her underpaid job with one of Adam’s pals.
Then comes the delicious bit, as we watch Adam and Co. cook salivation-inducing dishes (crafted for the film by British celebrity chef Marcus Wareing) and serve them en masse. In the kitchen, Cooper is nothing short of perfection, blending Gordon Ramsay’s rages with De Niro-like intensity to become wholly believable, utterly present in each moment of creation. Jones should be unlikable – he is arrogant, occasionally cruel and self-destructive, but I found his almost religious fervour for food compelling. Being a film, there is plenty of manufactured drama – Adam’s culinary style is so ‘Paris five years ago’ while his old friend turned rival produces cutting-edge molecular gastronomy, an early bad review inflames Adam’s fiery temper, Adam and Helene spend hours slavishly developing a new menu and may encounter some romantic feelings.
Despite producing plenty of snappy dialogue and humorous banter, screenwriter Steven Knight leans too heavily on the crutches of the genre – even when a late twist looks to add some spice to a tired recipe, the balance is restored by a final clichéd resolution.
The cast has talent in spades, and relishes the kitchen scenes filled with flames and moving pieces. Director John Wells conducts the camera through the space almost like a ballet, and you can almost smell the dishes being prepared. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman shoots the kitchen in glossy, bright compositions, and the food looks consistently stunning. Not to be viewed on an empty stomach.
Looking around, my peers in the film reviewing community seem to be unfairly giving this flick a bad rap, while audiences are being markedly more appreciative. It boils down to a question of whether you require your films to be hearty, or if simply well-dressed will do. In this case, I’d argue for the latter.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 22.