When thinking about the movie “Burnt,” it’s hard not to draw comparisons to many other movies about troubled cooks, most recently “Chef,” which came out last year. Unlike “Chef” and other films that center on restauranteurs, “Burnt” is less concerned with stylizing mouth-watering meals and is geared more toward the personal life of a top-tier chef.
With its formulaic structure and intriguing characters, director John Wells and writer Steven Knight offer a familiar but fun experience, with the help of leads Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Cooper plays Adam Jones, a washed up has-been who squandered his culinary potential on drugs and erratic behavior. After completing a self-assigned task of penance in Louisiana, Jones goes to London in an attempt to open a restaurant and receive three Michelin stars, the maximum rating and granddaddy of reviews for chefs in Europe. But to get there, he needs the help of old and new acquaintances, especially the highly skilled Helene (Miller).
Cooper’s character is presented as destructive and corrosive, a ticking time bomb. He likes to scream, curse, break things and insult his staff with impunity, à la Gordon Ramsay.
But as the film progresses and Jones’ past is revealed, he starts to become less monstrous and more sympathetic and relatable. Cooper does a great job of keeping Jones detached from the audience at first, specifically in a scene in which he verbally and physically degrades Helene in front of the staff, only to redeem himself later on, by showing compassion to others.
Miller’s Helene is a well-rounded and strongminded character: a loving mother and passionate cook who is the perfect foil to the volatile Jones. Their scenes together are some of the film’s highlights. However, many of the side characters are underdeveloped and one-dimensional, leaving talented actors like Omar Sy, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman and Emma Thompson with nothing to work with.
The plot of “Burnt” is filled with clichés and trite elements: some tropes you can see coming from a mile away, while others are only a little over-the-top and melodramatic. The rote love story between the two lead characters is boring, of course, although there are genuine moments of chemistry and sincerity between Cooper and Miller. The Hollywood trope of the troubled protagonist battling his inner demons, while trying to wash away the sins of his past, is also present in this film.
“Burnt” does not meet the criteria of the cuisine that Jones aspires to make: “memorable.” Instead, it’s closer to fast food: it doesn’t leave an impression, but it’s enjoyable and gets the job done.