Redemption is one of the most attempted themes addressed in all fiction. Directors and screenwriters constantly incorporate this theme into their works because they understand that redemptive character arcs could propel a story to greatness if executed well. The key words there are “if executed well,” and unfortunately, the new film “Burnt” tries but falls short of delivering an emotional and compelling arc for its main protagonist.
Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, who was one of the most celebrated chefs in all of Paris. After a life of drugs and alcohol catches up to him, Jones loses everything that he worked so hard for in his life. Now disgraced and ready to work hard for the highly sought after third Michelin star, he assembles his own cooking staff and attempts to open a successful restaurant in London.
Becoming a three-star chef is Jones’ primary goal in the film and he doesn’t care who he has to step on to make sure that his dream comes true. The character is quite reminiscent of real-life celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay is famous for regularly crossing the line with his rude outbursts to members of his cooking staff on his reality shows, “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Nightmares.” Jones has multiple temper tantrums in the film, filled with f-bombs and plenty of dishes being hurled across kitchens. These moments reinforce the notion that beneath the surface of his bravado is an arrogant man-child who has no idea how to communicate with people.
Despite the fact that his character is completely unlikable, Cooper’s performance is one of the few components of “Burnt” that never falters. He excels at playing the pariah in the kitchen when the script demands that of him, but he also brings some of his own charisma to the character. There’s one scene where Cooper’s charisma shows in his character, in which Jones brings out a birthday cake for the daughter of one of his cooks. He sits down with her and they both have a playful exchange before he cuts her cake. In that quick moment, he drops the tough guy act just to put a smile on this little girl’s face. It’s one of the rare moments in the film where the character displays any vulnerability and Cooper absolutely owns it.
Aside from Cooper, the only other actor in this movie who stands out at all is Sienna Miller. The pair worked together on “American Sniper” and their palpable on-screen chemistry from that movie carries over to “Burnt.” Miller’s character despises Jones’ arrogance but reluctantly agrees to be his head cook for the sake of a paycheck. Their complicated dynamic takes a turn that the audience will see coming from a mile away, but kudos to Cooper and Miller for pulling off a believable relationship even when the rest of the film feels inorganic and formulaic.
As for the supporting cast, there are quite a few exquisite actors who could have helped make the film more enjoyable than it was, if only they had more screen time. Uma Thurman is in merely two scenes as a harsh food critic and one of Jones’ former lovers, while Emma Thompson is Jones’ therapist and moral compass. However, Thompson’s character offers nothing to the overall story other than motivational monologues. Alicia Vikander, the breakout star of this year’s “Ex Machina,” plays another one of Jones’ old flames and is merely used as a plot device in the film’s third act to conveniently get Jones out of a difficult predicament.
For a film that places such an emphasis on the art of cooking, “Burnt” is the equivalent of a meal that doesn’t taste too bad, but leaves you wanting more in the end. Cooper and Miller have great chemistry, but their admirable performances can’t save a film that feels far too cliché and predictable. Some of the ingredients for a fine dish were present, but “Burnt” is a mostly underwhelming and completely forgettable experience.