Review: Burnt Is Marinated In Clichés With A Distasteful Main Character
Director: John Wells
Screenwriter: Steven Knight (screenplay) and Michael Kalesniko (story)
Principal Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Riccardo Scamarcio, Omar Sy, Emma Thompson, and Uma Thurman
Summary: Adam Jones is a Chef who destroyed his career with drugs and diva behavior. He cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can gain three Michelin stars.
I believe I saw the trailer for Burnt by accident. I think it was showing before another screening because otherwise I would have never heard of this movie. My first thought was that I’m not a fan of the “jerk chef” television shows. The only time I find Gordon Ramsey compelling is when he’s being nice to small children. This movie looked like the movie version of those shows that I’m inclined to ignore but with an A list cast. I hadn’t heard any buzz one way or another so I went in hoping that a good cast could make a story I had absolutely zero interest in compelling.
Burnt might have some compelling and maybe even decent moments but it commits a deadly sin of movies by having an unlikable main character that you don’t want to win in the end.
I’m going to do my best to explain why I disliked Burnt without spoiling the ending, even if the ending is something that I think was the final nail in the coffin. There are movies that can take an unlikable main character and make them compelling. Paid programing television is littered with anti heroes and they are some of the most popular characters on the planet. However, to pull that off, you need to make the anti hero either compelling to watch or you want them to get past everything to succeed. Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is neither of those things. They start off by explaining away his arrogance by saying “he’s a chef” like it makes up for all of the horrible things he does throughout the movie. The other characters were excusing Jones’ behavior before the movie even started because if the cast say it’s okay then the audience must think it’s okay. A stronger script might have been able to pull it off but Burnt has a very weak script.
There is also the fact that by the midpoint of the movie, when Adam declares that he wants to “earn his third star” in the cooking world, I didn’t want him to succeed. People kept mentioning that he “had a rough childhood” but that doesn’t excuse the way Adam acts. Everyone around him is either A: excusing the way he acts, B: sweeping his problems under the rug or taking care of them, or C: telling Adam he’s God’s gift to the cooking world. It was like the movie was trying so hard to make me like Adam as a character that I began to dislike him more. The entire cast seemed to be screaming “you find this guy compelling and interesting” and I could only sit there and go “no, I don’t”. The rest of the cast is wasted trying to tell us how amazing Adam so that Sienna Miller and Daniel Brühl don’t get characters for themselves. They are instruments to help prove that Adam is a good person. When both of their characters forgive and/or fall in love with him that’s when we know his redemption arc is complete. They are not fully formed human beings.
There were a few things I liked. The cooking segments were interesting to watch even if I kept getting distracted by how often they would just throw everything away. Director John Wells makes the cooking look like the art that it really is in the high class restaurant business. The cast is good enough that they make the movie bearable. I enjoyed the little twist to Daniel Brühl’s Tony character even if it felt a little odd to me. Sienna Miller’s character, Helene, could have been a little better if she wasn’t relegated to a love interest. Alicia Vikander has maybe five minutes of total screen time and her entire existence is to clean up one of Adam’s messes. The script is so littered with clichés and is so predictable that about halfway through I was able to guess how the movie would end. Adam never seems to suffer any consequences for his actions, either, and the ending felt like everything got wrapped up in a neat little bow considering there were some major plot holes.
Burnt has an extremely weak script which does nothing to make a complete jerk worth watching. When you want the main character to fail because he doesn’t deserve anything good happening to him, you know you have failed as a storyteller. Burnt might not be insultingly bad, but if you want to watch a chef yell at his subordinates just turn on the Cooking channel.