Mark Reviews Movies

Burnt

BURNT

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: John Wells

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy, Riccardo Scamarcio, Sam Keeley, Henry Goodman, Matthew Rhys, Stephen Campbell Moore, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 10/30/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 30, 2015

Is there any modern archetype more tiresome than the jerk who gets away with being a jerk because he is any combination of talented, fully aware he is a jerk, really just in need of love, charming, or searching for redemption? Burnt doesn't help the argument against that theory. The main character is, indeed, a jerk, although everyone—including himself—says he was much worse when he was using drugs. Part of the movie's problem is that it never gives us a real appreciation for what he was like. On the other hand, if he's this bad sober, maybe it's better we only get one, brief glimpse of him falling off the wagon.

Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is that recovering drug addict who screwed up quite badly near the end of his time cooking in Paris, and he is indeed talented, fully aware that he's a jerk, really just in need of some love, and capable of putting on the charm when necessary. Yes, he's searching for redemption, too. Let's not forget that one.

The movie opens with a voice-over that provides the first and second (maybe even the third) of many insinuations that he did some terrible things in Paris. He starts the movie in New Orleans, shucking his millionth oyster as a means of atonement for his past sins. Whatever those sins may be, though, will have to wait until much later in the movie, and even then, we're left partially guessing. It must be really bad if Steven Knight's screenplay can't even bring itself to tell us the whole story.

What we do know of Adam is that he is arrogant, angry, obsessed with perfection, and sometimes cruel to people who fail to live up to his very exacting standards of perfection. Obviously, there's a great guy under that shell. All he needs is an opportunity to show us that part of him.

Like the more specific information about Adam's past, that kinder side of Adam comes later in the movie—later even than the half-revelations about the stuff that was really bad. Are there flashes of it here and there? Well, if one can count that he bakes a cake (after his boss orders him to) for a young girl's birthday (after forcing the girl's mother to work on her birthday, despite the mother's request to have part of the day off to throw a party), then, yes, there is a flash of the gentler side of Adam on one or two occasions.

Adam comes to London after his exile, and his first order of business is to take over the restaurant in the hotel owned by his old friend Tony (Daniel Brühl). When Tony refuses, the only obvious option for Adam is to assemble a team of cooks, including Michel (Omar Sy), another old friend whom Adam wronged (This one we do learn, even though Adam doesn't remember: He put rats in Michel's restaurant). With the team in place, Adam forces Tony's hand by having a prominent restaurant critic (Uma Thurman) show up unannounced. Yes, Adam's a really great, stand-up guy.

Of course, there must be a woman who can help bring out the true Adam. She's Helene (Sienna Miller), a single mother whom he hires as his sous-chef. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start, when he convinces her current boss to fire her, and a rough middle, when he manhandles her after she dares to suggest that verbally abusing his employees isn't an effective strategy. Obviously, they will fall in love.

Everything about this story is rushed (Director John Wells liberally uses montages to hasten the whole affair), from the restaurant's first rise and fall—after people don't show up for the opening—to its second rise and fall—after a disastrous night involving people who rate eateries for a prominent restaurant guide. In between, Adam encounters his deceased mentor's daughter (Alicia Vikander), who might hold some key to his troubles, and gets tangled up with some drug dealers from Paris, to whom he owes a significant amount of money.

It goes from bad to worse to even worse. If it's not one thing in a movie like this, it's another and another and another. The other "another" is the scene in which Adam falls off the wagon and accosts a rival chef. It's the only moment that even a sturdy Cooper can't make any less ridiculous and contrived.

For his part, Cooper does keep this character grounded to best of his ability, but this is a character who, more than redemption, needs far more definition than Knight's screenplay supplies. Burnt can only tell us that Adam is a terrible person so many times before we start to believe it.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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