Burnt

Posted by Joel Copling on October 29, 2015


Like the food prepared onscreen (Beware, hungry movie-goers, for you will want to dine prior), "Burnt" has a laser-like focus upon its protagonist. Even as the narrative isn't a particularly ambitious or surprising one, with screenplay a sort of fictional biography with an A-to-B-to-C trajectory, the fact remains that Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a fascinating individual, both in his approach to being a chef as an outlet for his clearly obsessive-compulsive tendencies toward perfect dishes and in a private life he keeps close to the chest. Screenwriter Steven Knight and director John Wells have a clear idea of who this man is, however, even if they let us decide what we think of him.

Adam is, indeed, a wearer of the (mostly figurative) toque blanche. He's coming off a lengthy stint of being thought dead from a drug overdose years previously, and not everyone is happy to see that he survived. He is a great chef, though, having already been awarded two stars from that prestigious make-or-break Michelin Guide. Now that he's sober and seeking counsel from Dr. Rosshilde (Emma Thompson) with the help of old friend and current restaurateur Tony (Daniel Bruhl), Adam wants that highly coveted third star, which of course signifies that the establishment in question is worthy of a "special journey," and opens The Langham in an attempt to do so.

Of course, it's clear that the "special journey" achieved by a restaurant reflects what Adam wants out of life. This isn't, of course, a subtle desire on the screenplay's part, but that's fine. This is a straightforward character study, honing in on the rehabilitating effect of preparing and serving courses at a five-star restaurant. He hires a crew: Tony will be the owner and operator, Michel (Omar Sy) is the sous chef he wronged years earlier but lures back into the game, and Helene (Sienna Miller) is the promising, new talent with a precocious daughter and an inexplicable crush on her new boss, among other, more interchangeable faces.

He screams at his employees, becomes possessive of their presence in the kitchen (refusing point-blank to allow Helene to have an afternoon off to throw her daughter a birthday party), and is generally an explosion of anger whenever a dish is imperfect. Cooper's performance is carefully attuned not to tip over into caricature (mostly of a certain TV personality), and the proof is when Adam exits the kitchen. His guard is down, and we get to learn a little about his personal life, such as a previous relationships with Anne Marie (Alicia Vikander)--the daughter of his old boss with whom he would get high until things got so bad they broke up--and some issues with a pair of drug dealers who come calling.

So, no, there is nothing particularly new under the sun here, but it's the skill with which the familiar story is told that, much like 2014's very similar and similarly affecting "Chef," spells success for "Burnt." Aside from Cooper's performance, the ensemble is strong, with Miller adding another touching story to a steadily impressive resume as Helene, a stunning Vikander leaving an enormous impression with only two scenes as Adam's former flame, and Bruhl adding notes of desperation to the role of Tony. Wells and editor Nick Moore are also on fire in the cooking sequences, piecing them together to the pace of the orders coming into the kitchen. This is a straightforward character study--and a solid one, too.

Film Information


Bradley Cooper (Adam Jones), Sienna Miller (Helene), Daniel Bruhl (Tony), Omar Sy (Michel), Matthew Rhys (Reece), Emma Thompson (Dr. Rosshilde), Alicia Vikander (Anne Marie), Uma Thurman (.

Directed by John Wells and written by Steven Knight.

Rated R (language throughout).

100 minutes.

Released on October 30, 2015.