The new film Burnt stars Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones, a talented chef who gained fame and fortune working in a Paris eatery before his high flying lifestyle cost him everything. When viewers are first introduced to Jones, he’s relegated to shucking oysters in a modest New Orleans restaurant. Once he’s cleaned up his act he sets off to London looking for a shot at redemption by way of returning to the helm of a top notch kitchen and earning a third Michelin star. Indeed, the drama is less about the fine art of cooking and more about second chances.
In recent years, cooking and the business of food have become a popular subject matter in regards to pop culture. This is especially true in the field of television programming. On a daily basis audiences are bombarded by an array of shows focused on virtually all aspects of cooking and food prep (i.e. Top Chef, MasterChef, and Hell’s Kitchen). Some critics have termed this new entertainment trend as “food porn.” Many chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and Bobby Flay have used their media platforms to become celebrities and popular television stars. With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that one of the technical advisors on Burnt is well known chef, writer, and restauranteur Mario Batali, who is one of the co-stars of the weekday talk and cooking show “The Chew.”
Burnt was directed by John Wells, whose previous credits include such classic TV shows as ER and The West Wing. The film co stars Sienna Miller, who previously teamed up with Cooper in the 2014 flick American Sniper. Miller plays a talented sous chef who joins Jones’ culinary team and becomes the main character’s love interest. Well-known British actress Emma Thompson is also featured in the film as a psychiatrist whose job involves monitoring Jones’ sobriety. Burnt also includes a brief appearance by a barely recognizable Uma Thurman as an influential British food critic.
Burnt is set amid the high stakes world of haute cuisine and the cutthroat business of operating a high end restaurant in a major city like Paris or London. Despite the fact that the majority of the film takes place in a commercial kitchen, director Wells succeeds in making maximum use of vivid colour and rapid-fire editing in order to create a visually interesting drama.
The chacter of Adam Jones is a disgraced chief fighting his way back to the top. Cooper’s portrayal of this character comes off as rather unoriginal and uninspired. Jones seems like a character we’ve seen again and again in similar films. The majority of Burnt highlights the chef’s hard boiled nature as he is portrayed as being ill tempered, cocky, and perfectionistic. All of these characteristics are popular (and perhaps well-earned) stereotypes when delving into the specific personality traits of high-strung and ambitious celebrity chefs.
The highlight of Burnt comes more than half way into the drama when Jones faces a major professional setback and reverts back to his old self-destructive ways. After the character drunkenly wanders into his old friend and rival’s restaurant, Jones’ playful alcohol-fuelled antics morph into something a lot more serious. Kudos to actor Matthew Rhys who plays Reece, a man who is well-versed in Jone’s faults as well as his potential. The chef coolly deals with the situation not by coddling his distraught colleague but rather by using cold logic and instilling in him some helpful words of wisdom. Reece tells Jones that “doomed youth is romantic, doomed middle age isn’t.”
In the end, Burnt is less about the nuances of haute cuisine and more about redemption, second chances, forgiveness, teamwork, and how there’s power rather than weakness in acknowledging that you need other people. All in all, Burnt is a likeable, slick and well crafted film sure to satisfy the appetites of hungry audiences everywhere.
Burnt is now playing in theatres.