Why do we love Bradley Cooper? Is it his charisma when he performs on camera? Or is it his devilish charm and good looks that make us weak in the knees? He’s the guy we can’t help but cheer for, even when he’s an egotistical chef set on a path of self-destruction.
Words: Jason John, Subeditor: Lauren Burgess
Watching a film revolving around the hardships of being a chef and witnessing dishes that leave your mouth watering throughout the almost two hour run-time feels like something you would have no desire to watch, it’s almost torture. But Burnt has enlightened me. It shows what it’s really like to have your hopes and dreams be crushed from your hubris and what it takes to get back on your feet.
Let’s get this straight to the point, Burnt was an amazing film to see. Yes it has a common Hollywood film plot; presenting the audience with a has-been protagonist trying to make his way back to the top of his game while also creating a rag-tag-team that have various skills and talents to help him achieve this goal. But it was more than just that. The film portrays emotions that the characters show with great effort, their acting reflects the emotional pain we encounter from depression, anxiety, complexes, unrequited love, and the desire for life to be perfect.
The film follows Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper). Adam was a top chef in Paris until he indulged in drugs and alcohol, which lead to his mental breakdown and ended his cooking career. To pay for his sins, Adam placed it upon himself to move to New Orleans and work in a seafood restaurant ripping muscles out from clams. Two years later, and after finishing ripping clam 1,000,000, Adam moves to London and gets a shot at redemption from his former maître d’ (Daniel Brühl) to be head-chef at his new fine-dining restaurant. Adam forms his own team of various cultural food chefs, and demands respect and perfection from his staff so that he can achieve his dream in earning a third Michelin star.
Though you may not want to be a star chef, the story is relatable. We all have a dream in achieving something great, doing something that would be recognised by the masses and leaving a legacy. This film shows that earning that dream is hard, and it doesn’t sugar-coat it by saying everything will work out if you believe in yourself. In several scenes you see Adam trying to maintain his temper around his staff but is frustrated at the poor results due to his obsessive compulsive disorder. Adam has a perfection complex and needs to have everything done his way; he places décor on his dishes evenly, has a size criteria in cutting potatoes, and he even positions the knives and forks on the table himself. Other scenes shows Adam’s struggle with his abstinence and confronting his former drug dealers. Rather than letting his maître d’ pay for his debt, Adam sees it as his own problem and takes punishment. Rather than presenting Adam as an egotistical tyrant in the kitchen for the majority of the film, they show his defects and faults to make audiences relate to him as human being.
Bradley Cooper’s performance pulled on my heart strings. You see the contrast playing his character from a no-bullshit chef to a man that is terrified of failure. It was much better than the last film he starred in, Aloha. His character in Aloha was a greedy contractor, very distant and empty, and he showed little emotion, but I imagined it would be hard for him to give his best performance when working alongside A-listers Emma Stone, Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin.
Cooper’s Burnt co-stars Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson and Alicia Vikander were also a good feature, but unfortunately had minor roles which I saw as wasted potential. Omar Sy, who plays Adam’s former co-worker Michel, made a nice addition to the film. Having a French actor and adding a second language made it feel more exotic. His character was a quiet and resilient force that contrasted with Adam’s frustration, but in one scene (don’t worry, no spoilers) he shows his true intentions that left me and the majority of the audience gasping in shock.
Sienna Miller, who plays Adams love interest Helene, showed the anguish of a single mother that goes through a lot to do what’s best for her family. Furthermore, her independence and strength really showed how a female chef can work in a male dominated workplace. In one scene, she persuades Adam to use the vacuum sealant bags that he hates to seal the flavour in the food, proving that she doesn’t have to feminine or sexy to get men to do things her way.
Despite this, I felt that putting Helene as the love interest detracted from the idea of presenting her as a ‘strong, independent woman’ and it defeats the notion that she doesn’t need anyone to support her or her daughter. I also felt her affection towards Adam was forced into the plot. In the beginning of the film you see Helene resent Adam for manipulating her into being part of his staff, and then you see her fight Adam’s methods of cooking and shouting back at him when she went against his orders, but that is all forgotten and she just falls in love in him. (But who wouldn’t? He’s Bradley Cooper).
The cinematography was great. Director John Wells adapted the film’s Hollywood writing to be similar to a London film-house style making scenes look as natural as possible. It wasn’t trying to impress audiences with dynamic panning shots, or using excessive music to build up tension, it just felt natural for the audience to see with their own eyes what’s happening and feel the emotions the characters gives out.
A lot of critics believe this film was a flop. But I believe Burnt is a film you should watch to open your eyes to the world of top chefs and a deep look into the story of man who is desperately trying to realise his dream to the point where he feels he has nothing else to live for.
The good: Great performances from Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, emotional story-line, great cinematography.
The bad: The romance felt forced, wasted potential of A-list actors.