As the old adage goes, "if you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen". It's a mantra that is echoed by an the elite cult of celebrity chefs - Ramsey, Oliver, uh...those hairy biker dudes - and for Bradley Cooper's character in Burnt, it couldn't be more appropriate.
Cooper plays Adam Jones, a cocksure and arrogant celebrity chef whose life has hit the skids; after years of hedonistic drug abuse and casual sex in Paris (sounds tortuous, don't you think?), Jones has lost his restaurant, his friends and his fame to a humdrum existence shucking oysters in a greasy New York diner.
After completing this self-imposed exile, Jones returns to Europe with one thing in mind - redemption. This time he settles in London, and sets to work earning back the respect of everyone who he has wronged in the past - Tony (Daniel Bruhl), an eager maître d' whose restaurant is in need of a headline act, Michel (Omar Sy), a talented chef finding his feet in a new city and Reece (Matthew Rhys), a old friend turned bitter rival. Along the way, Adam recruits the help of Helene (Sienna Miller), a young cook who helps him relaunch his new career, and whom he nurtures in the kitchen.
Director John Wells (whose largest credit remains August: Osage County) has his aspirations set high for this one; Burnt has been marketed as a dramedy, but make no mistake - there is an unexpected dramatic edge to this film that only becomes more overt as it goes on. It's not going to be a contender come Oscar time (Cooper's Academy effort this year is being saved for his annual collab with David O. Russell and J-Law in Joy), but there are a lot of ingredients in this melting pot that work really well.
For starters, the acting is great. Behind his baby blue eyes, Cooper affords his tormented celebrity chef a lot of depth - it's in the quieter moments, and not the classic kitchen trashing tantrums - that his talent really shines through. I bought into his relationship with Miller, felt the simmering tension between him and Rhys and laughed at the snappy banter between him and Thompson, the latter of which is an underused delight as Adam's caring psychiatrist. Bruhl is particularly great as Adam's closet ally in the kitchen - there are hints here and there, but the full extent of their relationship blossoms really naturally across the film and this is a testament to Bruhl's delicate and nuanced performance.
Other talents swim in and out distractingly - Lily James (Cinderalla) pops in for no more than one scene, whilst Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) is included as Adam's old flame, Anne Marie. There isn't as much drama here as you'd hope, with their dynamic consisting of wilting attraction and reminiscence of what used to be. Maybe it's for the best though, as it gives Burnt the time to focus more on what really matters, which is Adam's road to redemption and his burgeoning relationship with Helene.
Perhaps the most criminally underutilised talent on the menu is Uma Thurman - playing a snooty restaurant critic who Jones must woo, Thurman is used once and just as soon dropped. It felt out of place to have use such a big name for such a throwaway role.
The film is hamstrung by a creaky script at times; I found this was most noticeable in the first act when the various characters were being introduced and we were spoon-fed key backstory that would later evolve into important plot points. It's not all bad though - there is a lot of heart and humour to be found in this film, particularly with Miller and Bruhl's characters.
Wells doesn't hold back on utilising a good old montage to show the passage of time, or the breathlessness of the bustling kitchen. If you're a fan of mouthwatering food porn (also see: Chef), you'll have a good time gazing lustfully at the sumptuous dishes the characters cook up. The direction or cinematography isn't anything special, and the overall narrative won't throw too many curveballs your way, but Burnt is a delectable time at the movies, best enjoyed on a full stomach.
The Verdict: 6/10
More of a gentle simmer than a bubbling pot of drama, Cooper, Miller and Bruhl's trio of lead performances are just enough to make this film a tasty meal for anyone hungry for drama. A few of the side dishes are wasted (Thurman, Thompson), but all in all this one order you won't be sending back to the kitchen.
Burnt is in cinemas across Australia now, before opening in the United States tomorrow