Burnt had me salivating for much more than the food that was constantly prepared on-screen. It’s literally “food pornography” throughout most of the film’s flashy montages. There’s plenty of instances where I felt desire in my stomach for a well prepared meal. My true craving was for more delectable substance from the rest of the movie. I feel the need to restrain myself before I go any further. It’d be all too easy for me to stuff with review with food jokes and clichéd phrases. I can think of numerous culinary puns to describe the plot of Burnt. Then again, that wouldn’t be any different from how the filmmakers constructed this entire film.
There’s so many overdone tropes in Burnt that it’s reminiscent of a tired out family recipe. The main ingredient is Bradley Cooper’s character, Adam Jones. He begins the film as a run-down famous chef. As another character retorts, “he’s like The Rolling Stones.” Given Adam’s tumultuous relationship with vices such as drugs and women, this comparison takes on more than a metaphorical meaning. After completing his interpretation of penance, Adam goes to London in order to claim a third Michelin star. Does he properly and ethically earn his way back into owning an established restaurant? Nope, he just manipulates those he’s previously wronged into working for him.
Burnt is a movie that hits nearly all of my film pet peeves. The first one it touches is overly convenient plot points. Instead of recruiting new employees, Jones magically comes into contact with former associates. We don’t learn any specifics about what Adam did to these people. Michel (Omar Sy) brings up their altercation in Paris but there’s never a moment where they delve any deeper than that. This makes it difficult to pinpoint if Adam has actually changed. He’s been sober for over two years but I question whether or not he’s as much of a jerk now as he was in the past. Aside from his passion for culinary perfection, there’s not much to like about Adam.
This brings me to the second pet peeve this movie strikes. I have no problem watching unsympathetic main characters as long as the movie is honest about it. For example, the protagonist in The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t a person I would associate with in my everyday life. That film, however, doesn’t hide the fact that he was a complete scumbag. Burnt doesn’t shy away from portraying Adam as unlikable. He even has a Gordon Ramsey like eruption in the kitchen in one scene. This is also Cooper’s best scene in the film. Even though he’s been very consistent recently, Cooper appears to be on autopilot during the majority of this film. We are supposed to cheer for Adam on his journey for redemption in spite of himself. That’s part one of the problem. He doesn’t do anything in this film to warrant a positive conviction.
The second part comes from how the plot is constructed. The high points of the film’s narrative don’t come from Jones’s directs actions. All of his obstacles are overcome with minimal effort and poor plot decisions. He owes a debt to some French drug dealers throughout the course of the film. I’ll leave it you to guess how this is worked out. Everything that he earns comes from how he manipulates others. For example, he convinces Helena (Sienna Miller) to work for him only after he gets her fired from her job. He mentions he’ll triple her salary but that’s not something I can use to get behind him. After what he does to her, they connect because after all, the movie is about relapse and recovery. It’s something that always bugs me. I hate when characters, who are completely unsympathetic, are rewarded through no significant struggles or tribulations.
For a movie with food at its epicenter, Burnt never uses it to explore the main character’s internal makeup. Last year’s Chef used food as a way to express a cook’s inner soul and individuality. Food never plays a role in understanding how Adam Jones is who he is. For all the talk about how he wants his food to be art, we don’t learn why exactly. The characters are as hollow and empty as fast food. The cast does all they can but they’re not given the right ingredients to succeed. All in all, Burnt doesn’t offer enough lasting nourishment to warrant a recommendation.