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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.