Film Review: Burnt

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy. Directed by John Wells.

The popularity of television cooking shows around the world appears to be at an all-time high. There is great drama in seeing a massive clock count down the seconds as contestants juggle multiple elements, struggling to plate up on time. But often these shows aren’t actually about food, but rather the people making it. We get a glimpse into the lives of vulnerable, yet driven, people, all aiming to see their culinary ‘dream’ become a reality.

This is the major misstep in new film Burnt. There is a great deal made about food – and just about every shot of anything edible is tantalising – but character development and story is severely undercooked.

Burnt focusses on chef Adam Jones (Cooper), who – as we meet him – has lost his restaurant due to drug addiction and his fiery behaviour. But, believing he is a changed man (after shucking one million oysters, for some unknown reason), he aims to rebuild his career by opening a restaurant in London, and winning three Michelin stars. This is his dream, and his new addiction. It causes him to become extremely driven, and rather menacing as he heads up a team of hand-plucked chefs including Helene (Miller).

As I mentioned above, director John Wells manages to transport us into a beautifully-shot world of food. We see produce at market, street food popping freshness, and tight close-ups of the precision of chefs at work in the kitchen. But if you’re keen to watch food for 90 odd minutes, you’d be better off staying at home and watching a Jamie Oliver marathon.

Burnt fails to hit the mark on a number of levels. Notably, we aren’t given much of Jones’ backstory, and so it’s hard to feel sympathy for him. We’re left to pick up the pieces: Why is he so aggressive? Why do thugs keep appearing in the alleyway by his restaurant seeking money from Jones? Who is this mysterious woman from Jones’s past that appears out of nowhere? Also, there’s so many montages in this film, that it seems like a cheap and lazy way of telling the story. And for some reason, there’s product placement for Burger King, which just doesn’t fit at all.

‘There’s strength in needing others.’

Adam Jones will stop at nothing in order to gain perfection. He needs others in order to gain his three Michelin stars, but rather than admitting this, he uses and abuses them. He throws tantrums, swears in all kinds of colourful ways, and he struggles to admit his flaws and apologise when he is at fault. This is Jones aiming for redemption, but his arrogance just leads him to spiral into further problems – and he is a terrible leader in the kitchen.

This got me thinking about the way that Jesus leads. He isn’t arrogant, or abusive, but rather a servant. As we read in the Gospels, he acts again and again with love. He is worthy to be followed, and to be respected. In our arrogance when we think we can get by on our own, we need to see our need for Jesus.

There’s a scene later in the film where Jones decides to join his team of chefs for a meal – something he usually keeps away from – and there is great surprise around the table. Why would Jones dine with everyone else?

Well, Jesus dined not just with his disciples, but with the outcasts of society (Luke 5:27-32)! And he treated them with love. Jesus is the servant King who laid down his life for his people. He is the perfect leader to follow, and we can do so with joy.

For a food drama, Burnt does not sizzle. Cooper is fairly convincing as Jones, but it would have been nice to know more about his character. I’m giving this two-and-a-half out of five stars.

Burnt is screening now in Australia; and will be released in the US this Friday 30th October.

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