Direction: John Wells
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl
A man is shucking oysters, and keeping some kind of record. He gets to a million, eats the millionth oyster, and walks out into the night. We’re told he was on some sort of self-imposed exile where no one knew if he was dead or alive. Almost Batman-esque.
Bruce Wayne wanted to save the world; chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper ) wants to win a third Michelin star. Once again, through conversations with other people, we’re told he was a hotshot chef in Paris before he was self-destructed. None of it is shown. No flashbacks. No stories of hardships or reform. In fact, there doesn’t seem very much in terms of reform either. For the sake of drama, Burnt portrays Jones as the clichéd maverick, combustible master-chef who hurls abuses and plates with equal frequency.
Food lends itself well to the big screen because it has heart-warming stories to tell. We saw that with Chef, Julie and Julia, the Hundred Foot Journey and with Ratatouille. Unfortunately, director John Wells (his past directorial work is mostly on TV) and screenplay writer Steven Knight (the man also wrote Hundred Foot Journey) focus almost entirely on Smith’s histrionics rather than tell his back story. We can’t be endearing towards the man who we barely know. Jones, in fact (pardon the food pun), might be the most half-baked protagonist we’ve seen in recent times.
The story sees Jones trying to open a restaurant in London, and putting a team together. Of course, the way he rides bikes, poaches cooks and settles histories with former mates, you’d think he’s Rusty Ryan trying to hire for Danny Ocean’s heist team. Characters from his past keep flitting in and out – some guys he owes money to, a rich, attractive ex (Alicia Vikander) and a friend-turned-competitor. In the absence of a back story, they all remain flat characters who contribute little to the narrative. The only one of any interest is chef Helene (Sienna Miller), a single mother trying to make it in a professional kitchen. We get little peeps into her life, and her child. You can’t help but feel that hers would have been a more interesting story to tell.
There are rare bits of clever writing. In one, a junior chef explains Michelin stars to his girlfriend using a Star Wars analogy: one star, you’re Luke Skywalker; three, you’re Yoda. In another, Tony (Daniel Bruhl), the restaurant owner, says gravy “isn’t called gravy anymore. Actually, it’s called gravy again.” The food is beautifully shot. But that, in the days of one MasterChef show per country, is hardly a novelty.
Burnt , in the end, isn’t burnt at all; it’s far from cooked. It tells no endearing story. And whatever it does tell doesn’t awe. A food critic says of Smith’s first cook in London: It fails to shock. She might as well have been writing about the film.