Stories about arrogant perfectionists always make great dramas. Add a few ingredients like coming from a broken home, seeking redemption for a stellar career that crashed, being a bad-tempered bully and you have the ideal flawed hero. But when the story is set amidst gastronomic food porn as in Burnt (2015) you have a recipe for instant interest. A particular draw-card of Burnt is seeing how the engine room of a top restaurant looks at full speed, and while we are there see some glorious close-ups of food-art being created, plated up and served. Little wonder that foodie shows are amongst the highest rated TV programs.
The storyline of Burnt has all the above ingredients, plus eye-candy Bradley Cooper playing chef Adam Jones. He was once the diva of London’s fine dining scene until drugs brought him down and now he’s back for redemption. Nothing less than winning the coveted Michelin three stars will calm him down for his destiny is to to be the “Yoda” of modern haute cuisine. No easy goal in a world where the distance between table cutlery is checked in millimetres. The photography is what makes this story work, with frenzied camera movement from kitchen-wide views to close-ups of plate after glorious plate, beads of sweat running down faces, violent temper outbursts and the melodramatic smashing of various things against walls. The narrative turns on the arrival of Helene (Sienna Miller), the new sous chef in this man’s world of high-stakes gastronomy, followed by the inevitable romantic humanizing of a demon chef. Two less significant sub-stories are thrown into the pot but these are more distractions than anything else, like chef being beaten up by thugs for an unpaid debt and the gay maître de whose love for Adam hangs off his sleeve.
If you are fascinated by fancy cooking there is much to enjoy in this film. The direction is fast-paced and the key acting performances are excellent. Bradly Cooper plays angry arrogance convincingly, Sienna Miller glides seamlessly from hyper-frustration to adoration, and Daniel Bruhl does the gay maître de with plausible restraint. There is an Olympic Games quality to the pursuit of Michelin gold and the elite chefs who are in the race are obviously a breed apart. This is an engaging and entertaining film that will leave you feeling well fed in a cinematic kind of way.
Director: John Wells
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl