‘Burnt’ serves undercooked story, engaging performance by Bradley Cooper

Charles Liu

Food flick “Burnt” fails to live up to its title — in fact, it’s kind of raw. It’s a pretty picture, and so are the mouth-watering dishes it lavishly displays, but viewers who bite into it will find little flavor in this undercooked story.

Director John Wells kicks off the movie by dumping viewers into the life of two-star Michelin chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper). Adam was successful for a time in Paris, then lost his job and reputation to drugs and alcohol.

After a stint shucking oysters in New Orleans, Adam has traveled to London to reclaim his title as one of the best chefs in Europe and earn his three-star Michelin rating. He reunites with a variety of former colleagues, chief among them a maitre’d d’hôtel named Tony (Daniel Bruhl), and also takes young talents under his wing. The most promising of them is Helene (Sienna Miller), who doubles as a struggling single mother. 

But Adam soon succumbs to his arrogance and temper, verbally abusing his team and lashing out at the slightest hint of imperfection. Clearly he needs more than time away from the kitchen to overcome his own flaws.

Tony suggests Adam’s problems are rooted in unresolved childhood issues, but that detail is given little more than lip-service. “Burnt” pursues less interesting plot points, including Adam’s debt to his former drug dealers, an unnecessary romance with Helene, the fleeting return of his old flame (Alicia Vikander) and his rivalry against his former friend and fellow chef, Reece (Matthew Rhys). 

Written by Steven Knight, the script never manages to combine these disparate elements in an organic way, and the ending is too convenient to be believable. Because of its competing storylines, “Burnt” loses sight of Adam’s quest for redemption and cannot provide the depth his character needs in its allotted running time. Further rewrites were definitely needed to trim down the overwrought screenplay.

Most of the film’s introspective scenes have the characters tell Adam what his flaws are, instead of allowing the story to reveal them as it progresses. Everyone seems to have a perfect read on who he is, and “Burnt” too often devolves into a repetitive series of dialogue exchanges in which Adam listens to another character urge him to change. 

Cooper makes up for a few of the script’s failings, putting forth a confident, credible foot as the kitchen’s head honcho. He’s engaging and honest, and invites audiences to feel Adam’s highs and lows. Unfortunately, “Burnt” does not afford the underused Miller, who starred with Cooper in last year’s “American Sniper,” the same opportunity to shine – her Helene is a love interest first, a character second.

While “Burnt” suffers from its focus-group tested script and artificial human moments, it still has a sweet core. Its main takeaway is success comes from trusting others. Adam truly begins his resurgence when he allows Helene and his friends – his “family” – to help him resolve his issues. The film’s last scene, played subtly rather than dramatically, movingly caps off its central theme. 

Some will find “Burnt” entertaining, some will roll their eyes.  It’s not a gourmet meal, but it’s hardly junk food.

John Wells
Running Time: 100 minutes
Score: 2.5/5 stars