Burnt Is Heavy On Food Porn, Light On Actual Drama.

Burnt.
Director: John Wells.
Writer:Steven Knight (with story by Michael Kalesniko).
Starring:Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Sam Keeley, Omar Sy and Emma Thompson.
Opens at:Wide.

Much like the middle class, movies that are both mid-budget and adult-targeted are slowly but surely going the way of the dodo. Nowadays, it seems you either spend a fortune or you shoot your movie on an iPhone just to get noticed

Still, every once in a while, we will still get a glimpse of $30 to $40 million dollar drama, and in this particular climate, those are refreshing to see.

Burnt is one such drama. It stars Bradley Cooper as a supposedly amazing cook named Adam Jones, who is trying to find redemption after bottoming-out thanks to addiction. He blew a prestigious cooking career in Paris, screwed over a bunch of friends and eventually exiled himself to sober up.

The first part of the movie deals with Adam, his spirit rekindled, heading to London because he burned so many bridges that he can't go back to Paris. He then cons his way back into becoming the chef at a restaurant run by his old maître-d' Tony (Daniel Brühl) at his old restaurant, and follows that up by trying to bring his old crew back together to run the kitchen. He even picks up a protege who worships him along the way.

Let's get this out of the way first: Do not compare this movie to Jon Favreau's Chef. We've heard a lot of other critics do this already, and they could not be more wrong in their comparisons. Despite the fact that they both deal with cooks who've fallen from grace, these films each look at different aspects of the cooking business.

And for you foodie types, you can rest assured there is plenty of — shudder — food porn here since this movie takes place in a fancy London restaurant. But it's not just all about tiny dishes and fancy presentation. There's a lot of talk about the nitty-gritty of running a high-end restaurant kitchen, and the movie makes it a point to show just how hard chefs and their entire staff work. There's also one particularly dynamic single-take scene that shows the crew working during the dinner rush, and it's one of the most visually flashy scenes in an otherwise subtly shot movie.

You get to see everything from the challenge of experimenting with food and finding new dishes to putting a menu together and then actually cooking all of the food for a fully booked restaurant. There are plenty of scenes where Adam and his sous chef Helene (Sienna Miller) are working on recipes after everyone's left and before anyone else gets there.

Given that it's his story, Cooper really shines in this movie, giving a performance that's maybe not as flashy or bombastic as Silver Lining's Playbook, but still stands as similarly dynamic. We see how he responds to success and to failure now that he's sober, and there's something really authentic there.

Adam as a character is fascinating: He's incredibly unpleasant even after being sober, but people still believe and rally around him because he's just that good. Knowing how low he sank makes us want to root for him, too, even as numerous obstacles are thrown his way.

The biggest problem for Burnt is its insistence of ignoring the “show, don't tell” adage of moviemaking. Adam narrates his addiction issues as part of the opening sequence of the movie when it feels like it would have been more effective to actually see him at his worst. And though we often see Adam in action in the kitchen, it does feel like people talk more about him being a great chef here instead of us actually just seeing him be great.

For all its talking, the movie manages to nullify seemingly every potential conflict — to the point, eventually, where Burnt feels a little flat. It's one thing not wanting to see a character go through undeserved struggles, but a character arc just can't feel too satisfying if everything good is just handed over to him on a silver platter right at the very end.

Burnt is frustrating in that it has all of the ingredients — I'm so sorry — of an outstanding movie. The performances, especially Cooper's, are compelling. And the food and kitchen scenes are enthralling, if only for appreciating the craft of making food.

But the actual storytelling is so devoid of conflict, it makes for a weak final presentation — like a smudge on an otherwise pristine plate.

Grade: B-.

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