Release: Friday, October 30, 2015
Written by: Steven Knight; Michael Kalesniko
Directed by: John Wells
Brad Cooper is a dish best served cold in this kitchen drama, starring him as a lunatic chef in what seems to be the pinnacle of culinary kick-assery in downtown London. There’s not much fat on these bones but Cooper and some of the other actors — Daniel Brühl is becoming reliable — aren’t exactly gristle. There’s not a very good story around them but these are some pretty great performances.
To use another cute food metaphor, Cooper’s Adam Jones is far from a savory personality. He’s a former drug addict and possessor of virtually every vice one could be accused of having. He barks orders and berates his fellow chefs when things go wrong; he owes a great amount of money to some strangers; he’s generally an intense and unpleasant person to be around. He’s almost superheroic in his distrust of others.
One day Adam decides to get clean and go take over an old friend’s son (Brühl)’s kitchen and cook, you know, the really good stuff. Because that’s how it happens; you can sometimes cook yourself back to sanity. His goal is to achieve a three-star Michelin rating, by all accounts an arbitrary bestowing of honor to all those who don’t spend most of their lives making food. Jones has been a two-star chef for sometime, but to achieve one more would be to become a Kitchen God. You achieve immortality. You become Gordon Ramsey.
Burnt is co-written by a man named Steven Knight, a name that’s likely unfamiliar to those who have yet to experience his brilliantly minimalist Tom Hardy-driven (literally) drama Locke from yesteryear. Minimalism plays a hand once again here, only it’s not to the benefit of the production. Characters, including Cooper’s prima donna, are uniformly underwritten and after a few brief visits to Emma Thompson’s psychiatrist and a few brief flirtations with Sienna Miller’s Helene it becomes clear Burnt is very much a movie of the present, and could care less about fully investing in Jones’ past or his life away from the kitchen.
It’s odd that Knight couldn’t produce a more palatable dish out of Michael Kalesniko’s story. I ponder this not because these characters feel unbelievable or that the food doesn’t look appealing. Neither case is the issue here; in fact the decision to place actors in an environment where all props are not props at all but are instead the genuine articles, contributes to credibility. And Cooper has shown in times past he’s comfortable playing the not-so-nice guy. Rather my concern is over consistency. Knight was onto something with his 2014 psychological drama but now it seems he’s settled back into more crowd-pleasing confectionaries.
Burnt can only justify itself as a cinematic release on the virtue of its star wattage. In every other way this is a package made for television. It would sit beautifully alongside popular shows like Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares or even Chopped. Not to downplay the power of TV drama. Watching good-looking people slave over even-better-looking cuisine and listening to Daniel Brühl romanticize his relationship with one of Europe’s most overblown egotists wouldn’t be the worst way to spend time around the box in the living room.
Yet with a cast this good — one that includes Omar Sy as an ‘old friend’ of Adam’s from his days in Paris, Alicia Vikander as a former flame, and Uma Thurman as an infamously difficult-to-please food critic — it’s more than a little disappointing this run-of-the-mill tale of redemption is as expendable as the next late night McDonald’s run a night shift worker is all but forced into making for the sake of convenience.
Recommendation: Star power is the name of the game here. Fans of Brad Cooper probably will have a hard time resisting this one and he’s definitely great in the lead. But Burnt seems a cheap cash-in on the recent trend of celebrity chef dramas on TV which I, personally, have great difficulty in finding the appeal. I can’t say this movie is a waste of time but it’s a waste of a lot of great talent.
Running Time: 101 mins.
Quoted: “I don’t want my resturant to be a place where people sit and eat. I want people to sit at that table and be sick with longing.”
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