I was reminded of Paul Newman in his prime when I saw Burnt, which stars Bradley Cooper as a career-obsessed arrogant chef trying for a comeback in the culinary kingdom of London. Cooper isn’t afraid to be unlikable here as an undeniably talented maestro in the kitchen, but a very flawed human being who isn’t operating on all cylinders. He reminded me of Newman classic roles like in Hud and The Hustler (both of which I had just seen on a double bill at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema) — charismatic charmers far too much into their insular universe to see the world around them. As I say in my video review (click the link above), both Cooper and co-star Sienna Miller burn up the screen in a 4-star feast for movie and food lovers. They teamed earlier in the year in the smash hit American Sniper and have an undeniable chemistry.
Cooper plays Adam Jones, the enfant terrible of the Paris cuisine scene whose own single-minded focus on every little detail of preparing food his way also causes his downfall — along with demons like drugs and alcohol — since he can’t seem to work with people, or even realize he may need someone else’s help along the way both personally and professionally. Attempting a comeback in the search for a third Michelin star (the restaurant equivalent of an Oscar) he leaves New Orleans where he has been living and heads to London to run his own kitchen for an old friend Tony, nicely played by Daniel Bruhl. But again, his own inability to communicate with others leads to uncomfortable confrontation and explosions, even as his financial problems mount and relationships crumble.
A saving grace clearly is the entrance of Helene (Miller), a brilliant sous chef herself who reluctantly rejoins his kitchen — and his life. There’s an inevitable romance here, but it isn’t Hollywood-phony thanks to these stars. In fact I don’t think Miller has ever been better. Omar Sy as a former rival wronged by Adam, also agrees to join Adam’s new team. And there is Alicia Vikander who turns up briefly as his ex, Emma Thompson as his concerned doctor, and Uma Thurman as a critic. The latter three really don’t have a lot to do and their scenes take away from the heart of the film — doing no harm but not adding a great deal.
There are moments in the film, written by Steven Knight and directed with precision by John Wells, where you just want to get up and slap Adam Jones into reality, but you also understand this man is a supremely talented perfectionist, a genius in the kitchen, who has lost his way. Oddly I was rooting for him, even after one particularly vicious tirade against his staff. That’s a tribute to Cooper, who gives this man real dimension. He’s exceptional again and proves why he may be the hottest star working today.
It seems of late the movies have been saturated with foodie film including the delightful Chef (actually the original title for this movie, which obviously had to be changed) and Helen Mirren’s The One Hundred Foot Journey. I like them both, but Burnt is more of a character-driven drama. Still there are many of the inevitable mouth-watering food shots, so those who are starving for that kind of thing will not be disappointed.
Bottom line: Burnt is smart adult entertainment on every level. Producers are Stacey Sher, Erwin Stoff, Caroline Hewitt and Wells. The Weinstein Company’s release plans have been bouncing around of late, but it is now scheduled for a nationwide release October 30.
Do you plan to see Burnt? Let us know what you think.