Eye For Film >> Movies >> Burnt (2015) Film Review
Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze
Did you know that "Michelin men" always come in pairs, one before the other, drink tap water and half a bottle of wine while placing, not dropping, a fork on the floor? Did you know that Bradley Cooper, after he puts his head in a sous vide bag, looks like Russell Crowe? Some of these peculiar facts may stick to the pot for future use after you see the comeback story of chef Adam Jones (Cooper), who, in voice-over with the opening credits, tells us that God created apples and oysters and that he considers it his job to try and improve on them. That's the arrogant part.
Then comes the humble reflection on his life. After he had made it to head chef in a famous Paris restaurant, "I destroyed it all," the bad boy says, with drugs and alcohol and women. That's why he sentenced himself to sobriety while shucking a million oysters in Louisiana as punishment before his return to London where he intends to take over the kitchen of his old friend Tony's restaurant. Tony is played by Daniel Brühl, an actor who can do many things well, including an hilarious Niki Lauda in Ron Howard's Rush, but here is reduced to reacting to Adam in a brooding, confused way that does not add up to the love he supposedly feels for his high-strung pal, nor to anything else.
The second biggest problem in John Wells' Burnt, screenplay by Steven Knight, is that everybody only exists as an accessory for Adam to bounce up against with his tired tortured kitchen genius act. The biggest one is the film's total lack of humour. Omar Sy, another accomplished actor who showed great comedic timing in Olivier Nakache's Samba, plays Michel. In Paris, "when we were sous chefs, we were like brothers," we hear, and also that the out-of-control Adam released rats in Michel's freshly opened restaurant and then called the health inspector, a fact Adam doesn't seem to even remember.
If only there were a morsel of the charm of Brad Bird's Ratatouille or the depth of emotional entanglement of the 2014 First Time Fest Grand Prize Winner Love Steaks, directed by Jakob Lass, in any of the scenes in Burnt instead of the endless tough-chef peacocking. We are not watching troops in combat but a guy who wants three Michelin stars for his restaurant in a movie that seems to want to convince audiences, in the tradition of many 21st century Anglo-Saxon TV reality shows, of the coolness of a ranting chef.
Sienna Miller as sous chef Helene, sports a haircut that would look good on no one and plays "edgy" in the outdated and fake rebellious meaning of the word. A woman in a man's world, with Miller struggling to save the film, one of the boys but not really, single mother of a little girl. Mother and daughter Lily (Lexie Benbow-Hart) live in a quirky, bohemian apartment - if they could have made them live on a houseboat on the Thames in the middle of London, they probably would have. Helene tests out food on the girl who in all of her scenes eats in such a convoluted way it's as if she never held a fork in her hand before. The oddities don't add up to anything and the love story between Adam and Helene is as predictable as it is sad.
When Adam, who loves street food, of course, meets up with Helene at a Burger King to audition her for the job in his kitchen, he lectures her that Burger King is no different than the "peasant food" she doesn't reject, and that only "consistency" is the problem of the fast food chain, something they as chefs have to avoid. Cooper plays this man-of-the-people plus messiah swagger all the way through.
Three more women get to show their faces and say their lines. 1. Uma Thurman as food critic Simone Forth wonders out loud before lifting her eyebrow in awe of the deliciousness of the food on her plate: "I say to myself, since you're a lesbian, why did you sleep with Adam Jones?" 2. Emma Thompson as Dr Rosshilde, a therapist who takes Adam's blood once a week and gives him spontaneous advice, since he is not her patient, gets some snappy dialogue about death and people who need people being the luckiest people. Thomson is, for some reason, garbed in various tent-like coats and extremely unflattering shoes, part high-top sneaker, part health sock, colour-coordinated to the monstrous smocks by costume designer Lyn Paolo. And 3. Alicia Vikander as ex-girlfriend Anne Marie, daughter of Adam's former boss, the dead master chef, gets to save the day in a way that seems to be an inside joke on the title of one of her most recent movies.
"Too much or too little tarragon?" an obsessed Adam asks, who wants his chefs to be like the Seven Samurai while he throws fits and bathes in self-pity. Even the food, with so much effort put into and with so many star chef advisers opening their kitchens for the film, looks boring. "Very Paris 2007", as one competitor viciously puts it. During one of the endless shouting fits in the kitchen, perfectionist Adam asks Helene to "apologise to the turbot because it died in vain." Wasted fish and wasted talent should be apologised for here.
Many members of the international cast who populate the kitchens of the movie, get to say at least a few lines in French, really fast, because, as we are told, they all have a past together in Paris. The ones who probably speak the language the least, get to go fastest, which results in what should be known from now on as the Barry Huggins Effect, named after John Turturro's character in Nanni Moretti's fabulous work of mourning, Mia Madre, where he plays an actor who turns what he thinks is Italian into a language of its own.
David O Russell is a director who brilliantly cooks with Cooper's talents in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook. Wells, who knew what to do with Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and some catfish in August: Osage County, feeds us a burnt-out Bradley. Will Adam get his three stars? Will he get the girl in the end? Take a wild truffled guess!Reviewed on: 02 Nov 2015