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Review: Burnt

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Food has always been an important part of our culture.  Cooking shows have been on television for decades, but there seems to be a sudden increase in interest over the last few years.  The success of shows like Master Chef and Hell’s Kitchen have brought food and competition into our living rooms and made certain chefs, like Gordon Ramsay for instance, household names.  It’s not surprising then that the food trend has been making its way into more big screen stories, as it has with Bradley Cooper‘s newest film, BURNT.

Part redemption film, part food porn, BURNT centres around Adam Jones (Cooper), a chef who had it all at a restaurant in Paris before his determination at self destruction made it all disappear.  Having served out his own imposed sentence of hard labour and sober after breaking a hefty drug habit, Adam heads to London to redeem himself with the goal of earning a third Michelin star.   Not everyone however is happy to see him.  His old friend Tony (Daniel Brühl) kicks him out of his hotel, his former sous chef Michel (Omar Sy) tries to beat him up, and fellow chef, now rival, Reece (Matthew Rhys) has nothing but acrimonious words for his colleague.

In scenes that feel like he’s assembling a team for a heist, Adam manages to appeal to some of his old crew and adds some new blood with Helene (an excellent Sienna Miller). His comeback is poised for success with a brand new restaurant and new dishes on the menu.  Along the way there are former drug dealers looking for money, the fact that Tony is in love with him, a former flame (an unfortunately under-utilized Alicia Vikander), and a therapist (Emma Thompson) charged with ensuring Adam stay clean.

If you get the impression there are more than a few sub-plots slowly simmering under the film’s surface you’d be right.  The burgeoning number of ingredients here is nothing but a recipe for disaster, with many unnecessary to the final product.  By dropping a few of these they could have given more screen time to Miller, whose sous chef trying to break into the big time may be the more interesting character here.

As Adam, Cooper has moments of being able to shine, but the writing here largely turns his character into a cliché, maybe modelled after the aforementioned Ramsay in his attitude towards his staff.  Moments of him in a temper tantrum are reminiscent of scenes from Hell’s Kitchen and seem more than over done.   What’s almost worse is that it seems expected, as that chef stereotype seems engrained in our culture.  Cooper is well able to handle a role with more complexity (see American Sniper), but Adam’s character never really delves into his dark side, and Cooper’s talents are largely wasted.

One of the things the film got right though was employing Mario Batali (an Iron Chef himself) as a technical advisor.  The food here may be what whets the audience’s appetite more than anything else.  However, even that seems too over worked as director John Wells (August: Osage County, TV’s ER) shows images of the plates with great repetition.  When you have Miller and Cooper to focus on, one only needs so many shots of turbot.

BURNT will appeal mostly to those foodies out there who will appreciate the film’s gastronomic value, however as a character study it falls flat.  What Jon Favreau‘s Chef did so successfully was give you a likeable main character that truly reinvented himself.  BURNT just takes itself too seriously and lends itself to too many clichés.  After all of our exposure to the world of food on screen, there is nothing original here, and BURNT might be worth sending back to the kitchen.

2-out-of-5

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