Glen Falkenstein enters the steamy kitchen of Bradley Cooper’s Burnt, only to find the dish has gone off the boil.
Bradley Cooper is front and centre in Burnt as troubled chef Adam Jones. Originally titled Chef, the film is based on Michelin-starred celebrity cook Gordon Ramsay who, amongst others, collaborated closely with Cooper to develop the role. Burnt is a tale of redemption, with Jones coming back onto the scene after three years, drug-free, having once been the darling of the fine-dining elite and now looking to open the best restaurant in the world.
Calling this film Burnt was a risk – either it’s going to be really good, or sub-editors have any number of ways to pitch a bad review. Unfortunately, it’s the latter.
Channelling the arrogance and harshness exhibited in any number of now heavily-syndicated celebrity cooking shows, Jones employs bullying, intimidation and manipulation – apparently the same tactics that lead to his downfall in the first place – to cajole previous acquaintances into joining his high-risk venture.
Daniel Bruhl plays “the best Maitre d’ in Europe,” and is joined by French actor Omar Sy (The Intouchables) as a former rival and Sienna Miller as Helene, sous chef extraordinaire.
Burnt presumes a knowledge and great appreciation of a world in which food is everything and people are willing to sacrifice their relationships and their lives for cooking the best meal, where the objectionable aspects of any character can be overcome by baking up a brisket slightly better than anyone else’s. The arena of very fine dining depicted in this film is extremely self-indulgent and introverted, its subjects and subject matter only relatable to the few intimately involved and most dedicated of Gordon Ramsay’s followers.
The popular cooking shows on TV, of which there are many, are significantly more relatable for their focus on ordinary individuals put under extraordinary pressure while trying to perfect their craft. Jones, despite his failures, believes he is a God in the cooking world and will have trouble convincing anyone that he is in almost any respect relatable or endearing, even with a trip to Burger King.
The human stories that could have been of interest are woefully cut short. Emma Thompson as Jones’ counsellor is relegated to a few brief minutes of screen time. Emerging talent Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), playing Jones’ ex-lover, is allowed only two scenes in a story line that had huge scope to offer real drama. Helene is perhaps the most interesting character, a single mother struggling to care and provide for her daughter, with this element of the screenplay barely explored in favour of a paint-by-numbers romance between her and Jones. An aspiring chef played by Irish actor Sam Keeley, who offers Jones a place to stay in his apartment, began the film with what could have been a great rags-to-riches story, which, unfortunately, is barely touched on.
The drama of the kitchen and opening night adds marginally to the film, but Burnt has more difficulty maintaining the suspense over the full runtime than its half-hour real-life predecessors manage to do every night on TV.
Much of the film revolves around Jones trying to secure a sacred third Michelin star. Like its central character, Burnt spends its feature length trying to convince us that it’s something better than a two-star effort and ultimately serves up a much-hyped misfire for its talented cast.
A deflated 2 souffles out of 5
Burnt is in cinemas now.