Movie Review: ‘BURNT’ – Check, Please!

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

BURNT | 100 min | R
Director: John Wells
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Riccardo Scamarcio, Omar Sy, Matthew Rhys, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander and Uma Thurman

One of cinema’s most enduring themes is the human appetite. When food — its preparation, presentation and consumption — is the central theme of a movie, it acts more as a narrative instrument than a prop. How it’s bestowed, whether metaphorically or literally, can serve as a filmmaker’s commentary on the general state of existence, as in Pixar’s RATATOUILLE or Ang Lee’s classic EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN.

Some of the best food films dissect rather than revere their subject. Ultimately, BURNT lacks the intellectual nourishment to compete with the greats, however much we may drool at the sight of Bradley Cooper preparing poultry.

Directed by John Wells (AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY) and penned by Steven Knight (LOCKE), BURNT follows a talented but impossible chef, Adam Jones (Cooper), who once ruled the kitchen at a top Paris restaurant only to flame out on drugs and alcohol. After collecting his wits and quitting cold turkey, he resurfaces in London for a bid at redemption: Earn three stars from the Michelin Guide, a revered French publication that recommends top-notch restaurants and hotels around the world.

Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in BURNT. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in BURNT. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

The film begins with a voice-over monologue by Cooper’s Jones. “God gave us oysters and apples,” he says. “We can’t improve on them, but it’s our job to try.” With this opening, the film promises a familiar recipe seasoned with unconventional spices to make it more satisfying. Yet, despite its warm greeting, narrative inconsistencies and an unfocused angle of the culinary landscape dash any chance of unique flavors.

It’s unfortunate when television better showcases the high-pressure world of fine dining and directing a kitchen line. BURNT waters down these familiar themes with unnecessary characters, an underplayed love story, and an unhealthy helping of melodrama.

Like many of its food-movie predecessors, the film’s strengths come from the kitchen. The food is so luscious and evocative you can almost smell it cooking. The sensual and spicy music balances the imagery well. The food prep and film editing establish a rhythm that never feels overindulgent.

The cast also plays to the film’s clout. There is a lot of enjoyment to be had from watching the performances, especially from the never-better Sienna Miller (FOXCATCHER) as a fiery sous chef lured by Jones to become his protegee. Miller and Cooper bring an infectious energy to the film through their onscreen chemistry, just as they did as husband and wife in last year’s AMERICAN SNIPER.

With the huge popularity of celebrity chef shows, it is easy to see why Hollywood saw cash and award potential in another story about the people who tickle our taste buds. While BURNT is unquestionably a feast for the senses, it’s missing some of the core ingredients that keep us from truly savoring it.

Grade: C-

BURNT opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.