Directed by: John Wells
Written by: Steven Knight
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Alicia Vikander, Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Matthew Rhys
Possessing an incredible amount of talent in a field can yield respect, but also creates a buffer for how much people are willing to put up with shenanigans. We’ve seen time and time again where these geniuses get excused from being decent human beings based on what they can achieve and produce for others. Some elements can be understood, but Burnt pushes this to an extreme that eventually leads to the detriment of the entire feature.
After struggling with drug addiction and burning nearly every relationship, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a prodigious chef, returns to London to reinvigorate his career. As he prepares to mend relationships and get a crew back together, he must also contend with the sins of his past catching up with him on multiple levels.
Ths set up for this feature promises to have some fiery moments, as we follow a complicated the protagonist and his attempts to reach the pinnacle of any chef’s career, receiving the third Michelin Star. In order to vibe with Burnt, one must decide whether or not you can get on board with the character of Adam. Other films have utilized unlikable characters to be the protagonist and you begrudgingly still root for them. Unfortunately, this film relishes in showing the emotionally abusive and asshole tendencies of this character to a degree where he no longer has any sliver of goodness in him. It makes the attempts to rehabilitate him feel shallow because, at the end of it all, he’s pretty much still quite an asshole. This sets up the entire story on a different note and I found myself genuinely rooting for his failure.
Perhaps it may be the intention of the filmmakers to create a complicated relationship with the audience, but it never really demonstrates any shades of gray because Adam has no real redeemable qualities. The rest of the story becomes a tale of how much others will put up with before having enough from this character. His ranting and raving about the particular way he needs things done in his kitchen and how he expects respect after genuinely humiliating people cannot be undone after a few counseling sessions. It’s simply not how you can redeem a character who has spent the majority of the film being an emotionally abusive bully.
The disconnect with the main character takes away from the good bits this film has to offer, which covers the intensity of working as a team in the kitchen and how it impacts every single meal. I would have preferred to follow Helene (Sienna Miller) and Michel (Omar Sy) and how they put together a great restaurant instead of them getting yelled at for almost two hours. Assembling the team Adam put together made for something exciting, but they should have just cut him out of it entirely.
The talent of this cast cannot be discredited with Cooper in the lead role in addition to Daniel Brühl, Alicia Vikander, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Lily James, and Emma Thompson. Some had more to do in the story than others but their characters only highlight how much more interesting this story could have been without us having to care about the troubles of some asshole. In my film-viewing experience, I’ve found it rare to find a feature focusing on the intricacies of building a restaurant, a reputation, and maintaining it in ultra-competitive environments. Burnt had the set up for a great idea, but unfortunately, it decides to focus on the wrong person.
While the cooking sequences and the intensity built in the film adds some tension to each dish being served out to the restaurant’s patrons, Burnt could never overcome a fundamental idea of storytelling. It made the person we follow for the entirety of the film far too uninteresting and unlikable for 90% of the entire story. It takes away from its good elements, but it cannot escape the trap it laid out for itself. The restaurant business is fickle and an exploration of its intricacies, especially the high-end ones, could make for an interesting feature, but unfortunately, this film could not deliver. Maybe the writer watched too many clips of Gordon Ramsey and figured audiences would want 101 minutes of someone being an asshole to those who work for him. A huge miscalculation on their part.