Tweetable Takeaway: Burnt has an unlikable protagonist surrounded by predictable plot points, making for an unfulfilling entrée. Tweet
Bradley Cooper’s turn as cook Adam Jones in Burnt joins a list of cinematic chef protagonists that include Jon Favreau in Chef, Steven Seagal in Under Siege, and of course the most skilled of them all, Remy the rat from Ratatouille. What separates Bradley Cooper’s chef from this pack is the movie surrounding their characters was enjoyable, and the protagonists themselves were likable. Burnt is predictable, its lead unsympathetic, and worst of all, not even the countless shots of food are all that tantalizing.
It’s the (apparently) cutthroat world of fine dining. Adam Jones has had a rough go of it, spiraling into drugs and sex and making everyone he knows angry at him, and we meet up with him as he travels back to Europe to make it all right. Except, what he really seems to be doing is assembling a team that will get him his third Michelin star. One star a chef is good. Two he or she is great. Three and you’re Yoda, top of the Jedi heap, as one character explains. It seems in order to be any good at all, one has to be a near sociopathic arrogant jerk who calls himself a god and criticizes other chefs’ dishes, even if the dishes were made well.
However, none of that seems to matter, since most characters fall over themselves trying to help Jones. Jones does a lot of talking and appears knowledgeable on matters of cooking, but we don’t actually see him cook enough to buy his tortured genius. Most of the movie others do the cooking for him, which typically results in Jones chucking the plate against the wall with a few curses. After referencing Seven Samurai in how he would like to recruit his kitchen, Jones proceeds to have an enormous tantrum the very first day he brings his crew together. He screams, he throws dishes, he gives every customer his or her money back, and then proceeds to humiliate several of this colleagues in front of everyone.
The movie has so firmly established Adam Jones as an asshole that the audience is unlikely to enjoy taking this hour and forty minute journey with him. Now protagonists can certainly be unlikable, arrogant, or even hated, if done right. There have been plenty of main characters audiences love to hate, for a variety of reasons. Many times that boils down to charm, or a sick fascination in seeing what the character will do next. Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood and many more all fall into this category.
By all accounts, they are despicable people. And yet there’s some kind of magnetism within that makes an audience unable to take its eyes off them. Not so with Adam Jones in Burnt. There’s no charm (short of Bradley Cooper’s perfectly grizzled face), no tension in seeing what he’ll do next. We are only supposed to take him at his word he’s some kind of culinary god, and most of the time his actions are wild overreactions and unjustified. It feels as if the filmmakers watched a couple episodes of Hell’s Kitchen and figured every chef must scream and curse out his underlings like Gordon Ramsay. The difference between Ramsay and Jones is that the show often has unskilled cooks chosen for their dramatic television potential. Jones handpicks his skilled team himself, so he can’t share that excuse.
Burnt also suffers from moments of unintentional comedy. Restaurant critic Simone, played by Uma Thurman, comes to try some of Adam Jones’ food. Upon nibbling the most miniscule bite possible, she proceeds to, ostensibly, orgasm from the sensation. One only wishes Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally was sitting at the same table. I’ll have what they’re having, indeed. The melodrama present in later scenes is so forced and intense, that the situations become ridiculous and hilarious rather than their intended effect. Other moments blatantly lay the plot points for the rest of the movie out for the audience. Adam Jones claims he has sworn off women and having sex with those he works with. Who does he hire as his second-in-command? An attractive Sienna Miller, you say? I can’t imagine what will happen later in the film between the two.
Adam Jones eventually endears himself to the audience, but by the time it comes, the damage has already been done. Audience members are no longer invested in his plight for perfection. Burnt may have succeeded with a more likable character, or at least one who has redeeming qualities and we see them early in the film. The most Adam Jones has to offer is a nice body in a leather jacket.
I give Burnt 2 dishes thrown across the room out of 5
Score: 2 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor