The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:




The Weinstein Company
 101 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: John Wells 
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Daniel Bruhl, Sienna Miller
Bradley Cooper

It’s been said that the next best thing to eating a great meal is watching such a meal get prepared. By that standard, Burnt should be a great movie. Alas, at some point people have to eat, and when the camera goes away from the images of the movie’s many various succulent dishes and tries to focus on the actual story, Burnt, as the title implies, simply isn’t all that tasty.


Burnt is the story of a gifted chef fallen on hard times, mostly of his own making. Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) learned from one of Paris’ greatest chefs but threw it all away thanks to overindulging in booze, drugs, and women. While he got sober, he went into hiding in New Orleans, shucking one million oysters as his self-imposed penance. Now that he’s decided he has suffered enough, he goes back to Europe, this time to London, where his goal is to run the best restaurant in town and earn the elusive Michelin third star. He’s selected the posh eatery at a London hotel whose Maitre d’, Tony (Daniel Bruhl) is one of Adam’s old Parisian buddies.


If Tony is cool to Adam’s idea, a couple of his other Parisian pals are considerably more hostile. Reece (Matthew Rhys), who now has his own elite restaurant, is still quite angry at Adam, while Michel (Omar Sy) lost his restaurant due to Adam (the movie doesn’t get into a lot of details about Adam’s younger days) and is more prone to taking a swing at Adam. Despite the hostility, Adam is able to persuade the never seen hotel owners to let him take over their restaurant, provided he checks in periodically with shrink Emma Thompson, who tests him to see if he’s relapsed.


The first half of Burnt is largely charming, especially for those who enjoy fine food. Adam goes from one restaurant to the next (including a Burger King), getting his ideas together and recruiting his team (in scenes that often play like Jake and Elwood getting the band back together in The Blues Brothers). His toughest sell is Helene (Sienna Miller), a single mother who initially wants nothing to do with Adam or his restaurant. It’s easy to see where that relationship is headed.  But the real treat in the early part of Burnt is the food itself. Director John Wells provides the audience with a veritable feast of montages showing all sorts of delectable edibles being bought, prepared, cooked, and eaten.


The audience doesn’t just have a front row seat as the meals are prepared; they also learn a good bit about the restaurant business itself with various entertaining information dumps such as a scene in which Tony describes how the “Michelin men” work when they review a restaurant so his wait staff can spot them and alert the kitchen. This naturally leads to a major dramatic scene in the movie, in which Adam goes all out to impress the Michelin reviewers when they do show up. And the audience also gets to hear Adam’s theories about food preparation, when he says such things as, “I don't want my restaurant to be a place where people sit and eat. I want people to sit at that table and be sick with longing.”


Viewers may be sick with longing for Adam’s food, but eventually they do want to eat, or, in this case, see an actual dramatic movie as opposed to a Food Channel documentary. And when Burnt does attempt to be a traditional drama, the results are half-baked at best. We learn quickly that the Parisian Adam wasn’t just a culinary genius with substance abuse problems; he was also an arrogant jerk. And the new Adam, although sober, is still an arrogant jerk who antagonizes the staff members who want to worship his talent.  


Actually, the scenes in which Adam blows his stack and rants at the staff (including asking them to apologize to a piece of poorly cooked fish for needlessly causing its death) are entertaining to watch, in the same way that watching R. Lee Ermey tear into Vincent d’Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket was entertaining. But, at some point, Wells and screenwriter Steven Knight decide to rehabilitate Adam. So instead of a movie about a jerk who succeeds (Gordon Ramsay served as a technical consultant on the film) or a movie about a man crashing and burning a second time, Adam sees the light.


Movies about reforming sinners have to be handled delicately in order to avoid being too predictable or preachy. Burnt is never preachy, fortunately, but neither is it very convincing. Late in the film, the movie introduces a mystery woman (Alicia Vikander), whose presence does explain how Adam got to run his London restaurant and who conveniently serves as a scapegoat for Adam to absolve his guilt and begin again. Of course, beginning again involves connecting with his romantic interest in the film, but Cooper fails to generate many sparks with Sienna Miller, even though, ironically they were paired together just a few months earlier in American Sniper.


One reason that Burnt isn’t more successful as a drama is that Wells overdoes the emphasis on haute cuisine. I lost track of the number of montages in the movie, but it may well have hit double digits. These montages, and the scenes showing the hustle and bustle in Adam’s kitchen are interesting, but they eventually overwhelm the film. Contrast this overemphasis on the food itself with the more balanced approach to the story in both Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey and it’s easy to see why the latter two movies succeeded where Burnt doesn’t.


For the second time in six months, a Bradley Cooper romantic comedy with an excellent supporting cast and appealing subject matter has failed, both critically and at the box office. As in Aloha, the culprit is the script and its failure to give the charismatic Cooper a credible, compelling storyline. Burnt is unquestionably enjoyable to look at, both for the food and the cast, but it’s ultimately not very filling. Were it to be served in a fine restaurant, appealing though its presentation might be, most diners would send it back. 

Read other reviews of  Burnt:


Burnt (2015) on IMDb