October 23, 2020

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The menu is haute cuisine but the plot is fast food

Food film dishes up bland fare

A recipe for mediocrity: Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in Burnt.

EONE

A recipe for mediocrity: Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in Burnt.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2015 (1820 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The movie Burnt will do nothing to dispel the Gordon Ramsay-fuelled notion that prestige restaurant kitchens routinely host scenes of temperamental chefs hurling food around, cursing the staff and generally behaving like malevolent, infantile sadists.

Even so, this foodie melodrama has its pleasures in a story of a brilliant chef seeking redemption after being felled by fame's side dishes -- hubris and excess.

We find Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) toiling in anonymity in a Louisiana eatery, shucking a million oysters as an act of culinary penance for past unspecified sins.

Having served that self-imposed sentence, he beelines to London, where he seeks to make a comeback with the help of reluctant hotelier Tony (Daniel Brºhl). Adam essentially blackmails his way into Tony's kitchen by arranging for a food critic (Uma Thurman) to visit, a horrifying prospect, since Tony has let his restaurant slide into a state of comfortable mediocrity.

Obliquely referring to the movie The Seven Samurai, Adam sets about drafting a kitchen dream team to earn a third Michelin star, placing him in direct competition with fellow hotshot London chef Reese (Matthew Rhys). His draft picks include Michel (Omar Sy), a forgiving cook Adam sabotaged years earlier in Paris, and Helene (Sienna Miller), a saucy single-mom saucier.

Ominously hanging around the periphery are a couple of thugs to whom Adam still owes drug money from his days as a diva/addict.

Last year, Burnt screenwriter Steven Knight made a far more compelling tale of a man on a redemptive mission. It was called Locke, and it took place entirely in the confines of a car occupied by Tom Hardy.

Burnt's universe is only a little more expansive, and the realm of haute cuisine proves to be even more treacherous even than Britain's M6 motorway.

Director John Wells evidently understood his obligation, which is to combine redemptive drama with food porn. He delivers, but the dish is more pleasing to the eye than the palate.

One can probably attribute some sour notes to Cooper in the lead role. His excellent work earlier this year in American Sniper proved emotional reticence is his friend. He's one of those actors who is stronger holding back than he is gushing forth.

That makes for an entirely different dynamic with his American Sniper co-star Miller, who played his wife in that film, and plays his romantic interest in this one. Miller is a perfectly competent actress without any perceptible hint of real star quality.

That absence, not just with Miller but with everyone in the cast, is keenly felt in Burnt. It's a movie that promises a wide spectrum of emotional experience, but ultimately only delivers a little bitter and a little sweet.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

   Read full biography

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