Film Review: Burnt (USA, 2015)

If you’re the kind of person who loves, without a doubt, the idea of work-life balance, this is not the film for you. If you’re easily upset at the sight of workplace bullying, or stress caused by an unstable manager and a professional environment that breeds unhealthy well being choices, this is not the film for you. If you saw the poster for the film, noticed Bradley Cooper in a chef’s uniform and thought this movie might be somewhat similar to 2014’s surprise feel-good film Chef, you’d be wrong, and this is not the film for you.

But just like the film’s tagline says, never underestimate a man who has nothing to lose, and while Burnt is not an easy film to watch it does offer the same themes as Chef: food, passion and the power of redemption. And Burnt gives the audience a no-holds-barred account of a man who lost everything and has to crawl his way back to regain his place in the world again.

Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, a typical perfectionist bully chef who, after quite a disastrous stint as a serious drug abuser, returns to the land of the living to take a stab at gaining his 3rd Michelin-star restaurant rating. He teams up with old friends and colleagues, maître d’ Tony (Daniel Brühl), fellow chefs Max and Michel (Riccardo Scamarcio and Omar Sy), and enlists (read: coerces) the aide of two others, sous chef Helene and David, played by Sienna Miller and Sam Keeley.

This film is hard to enjoy in some areas because it does depict Adam as, well, let’s just say it … an asshole. It’s no more shocking than anything we’ve seen on any reality show that Gordon Ramsay appears in, but that’s the other reason why this film might not sit well with some people. If you’re OK lauding these horrible outbursts as what comes with working alongside “creative geniuses”, then you won’t have a problem. But this behaviour will get to some. Should we aspire to be like Adam? Is that what this film is actually telling us?

But that’s what makes Burnt at least watchable. It is about a man trying to redeem himself, both professionally and personally, and it’s a story we’re always willing to see. Bradley Cooper does play smarm and arrogance well, but he also does beat-up and downtrodden pretty well, too. The staff around him, particularly Tony and Helene, hold their own around him – Daniel Brühl and Sienna Miller do a great job of playing strong characters against Adam’s whirlwind of emotions, and they show that, despite this, they have their own reasons for sticking with him. The setting of the film too, in an upmarket London restaurant, could have been switched for any other high-stress workplace; a law firm, an ad agency, a stock market floor, but they don’t evoke the same emotions like food and dining do. We’re all amateur foodies now anyway, and there are so many luscious close up shots of food and food prep that it’s hard not to love the food aspect of this film.

Burnt is difficult to watch because it’s a reminder that success, in whatever definition people choose to accept it in, is rewarded through hard work, personal sacrifice and a little bit of heartache. Can’t take the heat? Then get out of the kitchen – that’s the message of this film.

The happy ending – and there is one, don’t worry – doesn’t come wrapped up in a bow. It may take a good portion of the film for anyone to actually like Adam Jones. But the likeability of Tony and Helene, and Emma Thompson as Adam’s objective voice of reason Dr. Rosshilde means the film isn’t one long saga of a megalomaniac wreaking havoc on his staff.

Burnt is not the film to watch if you’re the type who only goes out for desserts. It’s a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, but its redemption song is worth sticking around for.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 100 minutes

Burnt is now out in Australian cinemas

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