Movies about chefs, restaurants or just food in general can be quantified into one of two categories. Either they are focused on the creation and consumption of the food or they are about the people who make the food, rarely if ever are they about both with one of the few exceptions being something like Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman which was more about how the elaborate food the father would make broke his family apart and eventually brought them together. At the outset Burnt, the new film starring Bradley Cooper seems poised to head down that same path as we watch him systematically pick out his kitchen crew like he is recruiting them for a bank heist (Cooper's Eleven?) but quickly degrades into a narrowly focused story about a man seeking redemption any way he can. Read the full review after the break.
In no time flat the film reveals itself to be highly focused in on Cooper's character only with everyone else sort of pushed to the side in favor of watching him flip out over and over again Gordon Ramsey style and try to sort out his past demons, most of which we only get vague references to (what exactly happened in Paris again?). It is a shame the film decided to take this approach as the premise behind what Cooper's character is trying to accomplish, announcing his comeback to the culinary world by assembling a ragtag group of roguish chefs and create the best 3 star restaurant in all of Paris, is rather unique and intriguing. Alas what we get is a film more interested in its central character than the more interesting building of a top tier restaurant.
The cast they got was certainly up to the task with such standouts as Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl and Emma Thompson providing solid supporting work. The problem is their characters are there more to support Cooper's high strung Chef instead of being fully fleshed out. Miller's character gets the most screentime away from Cooper with a few well earned moments featuring her daughter but once again the daughter only seems to have been introduced at all for the scene where Cooper is forced to make a cake for her thus serving his story more than Miller's character. One of the best scenes in the film comes later on when one of Cooper's recruits sabotages him during an important service where we see a glimpse of the film this could have been but it all too quickly becomes about Cooper again instead of the restaurant family he has been trying to build.
If there were one thing that could have made up for all the misplaced focus on Cooper's character it would have been the food itself. Movies about Chefs have a tendency to deliver a good amount of food porn where the director lavishes the camera over each dish in a way that makes you want to grab it right off the screen. It usually doesn't even matter what kind of food it is, watching the process of it being made can often times be just as spell binding an experience as watching two actors reading from an Aaron Sorkin script. But Burnt comes up short here too with nearly all the food prep action taking place off camera opting instead to focus on the frantic chaos of the preparation and not the beauty of its creation.
Despite all that there is some entertainment to be derived from the film. When all is said and done it is well made and as mentioned earlier features a rather robust cast of actors who seem to be doing star Bradley Cooper a favor more than just trying to pad out their resume. That is what the film feels like ultimately, a passion project for its star who was able to pull the right strings to get the project off the ground. After watching the film it's hard to tell what investor would see this script and think they would get their money back, but when you imagine Cooper delivering the script himself to said investors and showing off those pearly whites, it's all too easy to imagine how it got made.
If you are interested in seeing Burnt because it is about the culinary world then you will likely come away from the film disappointed. It's focus was clearly on its star and perhaps if we got to know him better aside from his temper tantrums and cocky veneer then the fact that we don't ever see one dish created and completed or that any of the other characters are merely background fodder it wouldn't have mattered as much. As it stands now Burnt is a decent distraction if you are a fan of Bradley Cooper but sadly there is little else here to recommend. He may have made a 3 star restaurant but his film is strictly 1 star.