Every once in a while there comes a film that you really want to love and try to find reasons to drool over it but unfortunately after doing a lot of things correct it just ends up being an undermining affair. Burnt falls in that category of films. I have to admit that I have a real fetish for films about food. I still watch Hell’s Kitchen on YouTube when I am having my dinner just to amp up my appetite and I just loved 2014’s Chef. I loved it as much for the food on display as for its cinematic prowess. I went into Burnt expecting a similar affair and I was having a great time until I started noticing a serious lack of drama and urgency.
Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a chef who destroyed his career with drugs and diva behavior. He was cruel to his friends and abandoned the girl he loved when she was pregnant. His former boss and mentor died when he was gone and he remained completely oblivious to that fact. However he cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can gain three Michelin stars. For those of you who might not be aware of what Michelin Stars are, they are like the Oscars for restaurants. They are extremely difficult to get and atrociously difficult to maintain. So when you go after that, you not only need to have a great team but also have to be focused at all times.
Like 2014’s Chef starring Jon Favreau, Burnt puts up extremely alluring food and its preparations on the platter. The visuals are extremely catchy and make you go for the food like you would go for porn. I would like to call it “food porn” of the highest order. There is vibrant color, artistic layouts and smooth curves beyond compare. There are moments when I could almost smell the food through the screen. It was that good. In the midst of it all is Bradley Cooper. He is the sort of actor who is just so immensely likable that he works even if the film fails and at many junctures his working makes the film work too. He does have you going for a while before you start looking close.
This film is completely devoid of any functioning drama. Unlike Favreau’s Chef which presented drama in the form of a father son relationship and also that of a couple who had lost their spark thanks to the father’s complete submission to his passion. It became a film more about the relations then the food by the end and it actually infused the much needed life into the narrative. In case of Burnt, there isn’t a functioning relationship that could have that sort of an effect. The romantic angle between Cooper and Sienna Miller’s Helene is created abruptly and it feels very out of place. There is basically very little camaraderie between the chef and the team he hand picks. Also it’s just a story about him trying to get that Michelin star at the cost of one and all. There is just no feel for his character.
The director tries to infuse some life by conjuring up a betrayal and some more warm moments which doesn’t work. However what work is the scenes in the kitchen. The scenes where the food is presented in all its grandeur and the scenes where Bradley Cooper in his own style drives the character of Adam well beyond its reach. It must be pointed out that in these scenes we love Cooper the man and not the character of Adam. Sienna Miller gives him able company but she has very little to do apart from being abused in the kitchen and then curling back to him.
Burnt deserves a view for the food that it places in front of you and a superbly in-form Bradley Cooper. It’s the right kind of movie to put into your Bluray Player as you grab some lunch or dinner. It will definitely enhance your appetite. It’s beautifully shot and crisply edited but it just doesn’t have the material and heart to be a cinematic achievement. It lacks a lot in terms of plot and drama and the beautiful shots of the food and a superbly confident Bradley Cooper are not enough to cover it up. I was also very disappointed by the way the film ended. It was abrupt and even though there wasn’t much left to be done, it could have tried to create some ripples and thereby redeem the lost steam but no such effort is made.
Beneath all its inadequacies, Burnt is a film which could have been supremely entertaining and resonant but the director chooses to lose it in the cacophony of putting up a beautiful picture of food onscreen or dueling into the inconsistencies of Adam’s life and ends up with a half hearted jab at both. Thus we have a picture which could have been great but is not.