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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 22, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Drama film fizzles with flavorless plotline

"Burnt"

Directed by John Wells

After hurling himself into a spicy situation of drugs, addiction and sex, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) scrambles to get his life back together in the restaurant business in “Burnt.” Though the plot is promising, the film flakes on character development and conflict.

Directed by John Wells, known for “ER” and “The West Wing,” the story follows Adam, a recovering drug addict and cooking extraordinaire, and his determination to lead a restaurant to earn three Michelin stars, which represent the highest quality of food and service based on anonymous reviews. In the film, viewers learn about Adam’s passion for the culinary arts as a 16-year-old, his impulse for drugs despite his success with cooking and the very real possibility of redemption.

After shucking oysters and crawling into a ball of shame, Adam moves from New Orleans back to London, where he originally resided before drugs and alcohol ruined his career. His former maitre d’, Tony (Daniel Bruhl), offers him a head position at his fine dining restaurant. From here, Adam works with his former colleague Michel (Omar Sy), along with several other chefs, to rise to success once again. However, the stakes are high because Adam is recognized by the culinary world as a failure.

The plotline sounds appealing at first glance — a recovering drug addict is given a second chance at culinary fame. There are several other films of redemption reminiscent of this type of plot, such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.” With a familiar plot, the expectation for “Burnt” was high. By the middle of the film, the plot fizzles along with the lack of character development.

To obtain an accurate image of a fine dining restaurant in the film, Gordon Ramsay was hired as a chef consultant to monitor the actors as if they were real chefs, as well as helping to construct the dishes. It seems that Ramsay did more harm than good though, by giving more life to the food than the actors. Producers got the food right, but focused too much on the dishes and not enough on their characters.

Despite Adam’s expertise in gastronomy, the study of gourmet cuisine, viewers hardly see this connection in the film. Besides dialogue, Adam’s familiarity with food is mundane, along with his personality. In the film, viewers see Adam’s drive to cook, but his personality is lost in mediocre shots of food. From the very beginning, there are images of him shucking oysters and chopping veggies, but viewers don’t receive any of his personality besides his debilitating self-loathing. Moviegoers are unable to vindicate a character that doesn’t show many redeeming qualities.

As if trying to feel empathy for the dull character wasn’t hard enough, Adam’s kitchen staff lacks depth as well. Helene (Sienna Miller), one of the main characters, serves no purpose throughout the film other than to be a love interest to Adam. Helene’s peak is her accent, used to emphasize the fact that they reside in Paris, since the surrounding shots fail to do so. It is infuriating to watch such an experienced actress such as Miller go to waste on a static character. Speaking of wasted actors, Uma Thurman is featured in two scenes in “Burnt.” She acts as a restaurant critic that hands out Michelin stars, but is only present to surprise the audience with a cameo. Despite her credentials in the cinema world, her purpose in the film is brief and utterly useless.

Known for his acting in “The Intouchables” and “Jurassic World,” Sy also played a mundane role throughout the film. Michel is an experienced chef whose restaurant was sabotaged by Adam, something that would fuel aggression or spark conflict. However, viewers don’t receive any of Michel’s anguish with the past. Instead, Michel follows along with his once-rival’s plan as long as he can get in on Adam’s future title.

One element the producers depicted well was the emotionally fueled arguments in the restaurant. Few heated scenes arise during the film showing Adam’s frustration in the kitchen. In one scene, Adam furiously screams at one of his sous-chefs to work harder, to which she bows her head and responds with, “Yes, chef,” nervously. While the scenes like this spice the film up, viewers can’t help but be reminded of an episode of the reality television show “Top Chef” — leaving viewers satisfied, but unfulfilled.

The star-studded cast of “Burnt,” including Cooper, Miller, Sy, Thurman and Emma Thompson, gave an attempt at something that had much potential for film. In the long run, “Burnt” stirred the pot but failed to add any zest to make it appealing.