For the second time in his acting career, Bradley Cooper is hoping to find success in the kitchen. In 2005, Cooper starred in the Fox television series Kitchen Confidential, a short lived comedy series based on a book by Anthony Bourdain playing a character based on the author, Jack Bourdain. The series starts with Bourdain trying to make up for a massive flameout in his career due to drugs, alcohol and women. So now Cooper is trying the whole thing again but as a straight forward drama. I guess none of this seemed eerily familiar to him.
Burnt comes from mega television producer and August: Osage County director John Wells from a script from the usually fantastic Steven Knight, which was on the blacklist of great unproduced works in 2007. Originally supposed to have been made in 2008 by David Fincher and Derek Cianfrance in 2013, the movie went through some turmoil before coming out, even going through the title changes from Chef to Adam Jones before finalizing on Burnt.
As I said before, the similarities between Kitchen Confidential are many. Cooper plays Adam Jones, a celebrated chef in Paris who hit rock bottom and is serving his penance shucking oysters in Louisiana at the beginning of the film. After he’s opened his millionth oyster his time is up (in his mind) and he returns overseas to the United Kingdom, where he looks to take over the hotel restaurant of his friend Tony (Daniel Brühl).
In a sort of “we’re getting the band back together” sort of way, Adam puts together his dream team of kitchen staff, including Michel (Omar Sy), someone he had screwed over in Paris; Max (Riccardo Scamarcio), who is freshly out of prison; and Helene (Sienna Miller), a brash sous chef to whom he takes an immediate liking. The goal is for the restaurant to earn the prestigious three star Michelin review, the pinnacle of any chef’s career.
Jones is consistently battling his own demons and ego throughout the film. Whether it’s showing up to taunt his rival (Matthew Rhys), who also happens to have been taught by his mentor or having an encounter with said mentor’s daughter and his former lover (Alicia Vikander), Adam Jones is always on the losing end but seems to come out on top every time. This is a huge part of the movie’s frustrating problems for me.
Adam Jones is a complete cliche. He’s a leather jacket wearing, motorcycle riding jerk with sunglasses and a five o’clock shadow. He’s the guy that mothers warn their daughters about and no matter how hard he screws up, everything will work out for him. There’s no worry or peril in this character’s life because no matter how many times he screws up, his next opportunity is just around the corner.
Because of this, the writing of this film becomes lazily predictable and in the third act all the plot points feel even coincidentally predictable. We get a shoehorned in romantic subplot that feels incredibly useless in a story that basically screams “the middle age is where you settle down” message. Sure, Adam Jones was a success when he was young, good looking and excessively out of control but now that he’s older, good looking and egotistically out of control it’s lost some of his luster, just not enough to destroy him completely. You know, just how life is, right?
For me this movie was mostly disappointing on the caliber of writing we usually expect from Steven Knight. His film Pawn Sacrifice earlier last month was a dull and overly too long bio-pic and this one he couldn’t seem to get the story really going until twenty minutes into it. There within we have ham handed metaphors, jaded angst and a look at food that doesn’t tantalise you like Jon Favreau’s Chef did. Hell, it made me appreciate that one more.
With the food based narrative films that have been made, we haven’t had one that has actually worked. Successful reality shows like Hell’s Kitchen and anything on the Food Network should have paved the way for something with substance but none of them have been satisfying to the movie palate. Burnt was just that in the end, an over cooked film that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. A two out of five.