Renown American Chef Anthony Bourdain is quoted as saying, “The plate is a chef’s canvas upon which he paints his masterpiece.”
“Burnt,” an adaptation of Michael Kalesniko’s “Iron Sky,” is the second-chance story of Chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) pursuing a flawless masterpiece. According to Jones, “People eat because they are hungry. I don’t want my restaurant to be a place where people sit and eat. I want people to sit at that table and be sick with longing.”
Jones is a washed-up chef with ostensibly unmatched talent whose bourgeoning career as a rockstar Parisian culinary prodigy caved under his own troublesome shenanigans. After three years of self-inflicted penance shelling one million oysters in Louisiana (presumably one of the most pungently demeaning food preparation tasks), Jones travels to London where he concocts a career resurrection. In pursuit of his third Michelin star, Jones assembles a team of former colleagues and maneuvers his way into the position of head chef at a friend-and-devotee’s successful restaurant. Now, with a second chance, Jones and the beautiful sous-chef Helene (Sienna Miller) begin an andante journey through betrayal, rage, criticism, and love that showcases his resolve to create perfection.
One of the most substantial weaknesses of the film is a conspicuous deficiency in explaining Jones’ backstory. Mentions of unclear but important events from his childhood, career, and other life landmarks pepper the script. But Jones’ untold history succeeds in marginally perplexing the viewer more than bolstering the storyline. The viewer gradually accumulates tidbits of the Chef’s culinary backstory. But the film progresses as if it opened with an additional (and necessary) fifteen minutes of introductory narrative, and Jones’ past remains a vague mystery as the credits begin to roll.
Both of Cooper’s emblematic punchy humor and biting furiousness, however, shine with equal brilliance throughout the whole film. And the chemistry between Miller and Cooper makes the two a near perfect match for the big screen. But several scenes in the movie teeter promisingly on the ledge of exciting action and consistently lack the necessary directorial nudge. But I think the absence of a thrilling blockbuster kick is the perfect ingredient for keeping “Burnt” healthfully within the realm of believability.
Similar to the drama’s effective flirtation with exciting action, delicate motifs of emotional interplay and character maturation sufficiently complement rather than convolute or diminish the power of enacting one chef’s nearly insatiable appetite for perfection.
Tangentially, every dialogue in the film is succinct and meaningful. “Burnt” wastes no words. More specifically and unsurprisingly, Cooper delivers each line with palatable excellence. The camera too exploits every opportunity to make the audience salivate over shots of and dialogue about sinfully delicious menu items.
The most riveting theme from “Burnt” is the Chef’s feverish desire for Thomistic perfection in his art: cuisine. Continual experimentation with delicious “firework” recipes is Jones’ unique method for achieving his third star, a symbol of his flawlessness. In general, contrary to the opining of prominent critics, cast performances and directorial deftness rescue “Burnt” from falling into the clutches of bland cliché or confusing.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Though not an epic thriller, tear-jerker, or side-splitter, this intriguing culinary drama adds a flare of Hollywood and dusting of reality to a Hell’s Kitchen-esque story of a chef who, detesting good and great, only settles for perfect.
Watch the trailer here.
See Rotten Tomatoes rating here.