Home » Years » 2015 » Burnt •••

Burnt •••

Burnt_Poster_UpdatedStarring:Bradley CooperSienna MillerDaniel Brühl
Director:John Wells
Screenplay:Steven KnightMichael Kalesniko
Comedy, Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Date: October 30, 2015


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

We’ve been burnt by Hollywood before. Let’s see how Burnt stacks up…

We meet a thirty-something man named Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), who was a chef at one of the best restaurants in Paris a few years earlier. Adam’s drug and alcohol addiction, along with his anger management issues, caused him to self-destruct. He also brought down the Parisian restaurant and sullied the careers of several of his chef colleagues, too. Adam exiled himself to New Orleans where he punished himself by shucking one million oysters. Now he is in London and ready to redeem his image by obtaining the highly coveted third Michelin star.

Adam approaches his ol (but no longer) friend Tony (Daniel Brühl) and tells him he’s going to take over the restaurant. Adam gathers “the usual suspects” – old friends from his days as a young chef: Michel, Max, and a young up-and-coming chef Helene – who really doesn’t like him that much. And for good measure, the drug dealers Adam left high and dry come circling around looking for the money Adam owes them. Finally, Adam has pissed off an old friend (Reece) who is top chef at a local restaurant and vows to put him out of business. And we’re off…

Greg, I’m no chef, and in fact I’m a danger to myself and others in the kitchen. But I know a good story when I see one, and Burnt delivers up a flavorful story about a man seeking redemption. The most satisfying part of the plotline is that his atonement plan does not unfold the way he anticipates, which evokes plenty of pain and resistance but also a much greater payoff in the end.

Bradley Cooper is cast perfectly for this role. His character has just enough madness and relentless mania to be an intimidating force and dysfunctional leader in the kitchen. Yet he also has just enough intelligence and sensitivity to avoid being too far gone and beyond hope once things go horribly awry. It’s a nice balancing act that Cooper plays to perfection. His hero’s journey is complex, volatile, and an uncomfortable joy to watch.

I also enjoyed Burnt. My daughter is in the fine dining business and Cooper as Adam plays a part reminiscent of people I’ve met. He’s dedicated, passionate, demanding, and a little mad. Adam is brash and arrogant – so much so that he entices a food critic (Uma Thurman) to try is food. Her review is enough to get him promoted to top chef. It’s a brazen move and as an audience we are immediately won over.

Adam pushes his staff to the brink of exhaustion. Every night, the staff get together and cook a meal for themselves. Adam never takes part – he feels the need to distance himself from the rest of the staff – both a professional and a personal distance. By the end of the film, though, he has a complete turn of face and realizes that his staff are not his employees – but his family. And in a touching moment sits to break bread with them.

Yes, exactly Greg. Adam Jones’ missing qualities include a much-needed dose of humility and an ability to play as a team and be part of a family. These deficits set the stage for his transformation. By missing these qualities, he ends up alienating himself from the very people who are needed for him to accomplish his mission.

His low point – when he believes he has failed to acquire the highly coveted third star – is the point at which his transformation takes place. As is often the case in hero stories, only when the hero’s ego has been deconstructed is he or she open to change. We see this rock bottom point in countless hero stories, and it is always so very satisfying to see the hero change and grow in response to this desperate situation.

The rest of the cast is a bit mundane. There is no real mentor in the story, except perhaps Adam’s teacher – Jean Luc – who died while Adam was touring the world in a self-absorbed mission to eat a million oysters. This is a rare “dead” mentor who advises from the grave. Helene, is sadly, the typical romantic interest. Michel plays the old friend who happens to be gay and is secretly in love with Adam – which makes for an interesting bit of a love triangle. But this is Adam’s story and the supporting cast are less memorable artifices designed to showcase Cooper in another manic performance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Burnt serves up some delicious fare with its rich, tasty hero story peppered with several interesting allies and garnished (or should I say tarnished?) with a not-so-surprising villainous figure. Bradley Cooper once again proves himself to be one of the hottest, if not the hottest, male leading actor in Hollywood. His intelligent freneticism grabs and holds our attention, and we are emotionally moved by his hero’s journey. The only weakness in the movie was that it dragged on a bit too long and may have been a tad too predictable. I’ll award Burnt 3 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve noted, the hero’s journey is top-notch and enjoys a richness not seen in most stories of redemption. Adam Jones is a complicated and tragic figure, and he has already has changed by the time we meet him early in the story. Little does he know that significantly more change awaits him and is necessary for him to complete his journey. Good call, Greg, on identifying Jean Luc as the “mentor from afar” whom we never meet but is referenced repeatedly. We’ve seen this in previous movies this past year including A Walk in the Woods and The Martian. I give our hero Adam here a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5.

I enjoyed the supporting characters very much. Adam has not one but two love interests, one female and one male. They play important roles in helping, hurting, and distracting Adam while he’s on his journey. There is also a rival chef who helps him recover from a “slip”. His entire team of chefs in the kitchen are important characters, too, as is the restaurant’s maître d’. I can easily award this group of supporting people a rating of 4 out of 5.

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Well, Scott, I think Burnt was especially made just for your brand of food-based metaphors. I agree that Bradley Cooper delivers in this film. He brings a manic focus to the character that in other hands would look cartoonish. I enjoyed this film, but I think it was a bit too formulaic and predictable for my tastes. I appreciated the catharsis of Adam’s rebirth, but I found the film largely forgettable. I can only mustard [sic] 3 out of 5 Reels.

Adam is a wonderful hero and his arc is gratifying. He starts out self-absorbed but filled with passion. He tries to woo the young female chef, but she isn’t taken in by his charm. It isn’t until he believes he has hit rock bottom that he learns a bit of humility and empathy for others. I give him 4 out of 5 Heroes.

I felt the supporting cast was serviceable but not engaging. Everyone seemed to fall into the background, overshadowed by Cooper’s fiery presence. Even the woman from his past was only present to solve his financial problems in the end. It’s all a little too simplistic for me. I give them all just 3 out of 5 Cast points.

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