Daniel Brühl, Bradley Cooper, Jamie Dornan, Lily James, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman, Alicia
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… manages to keep the formula fresh.
As various reality series have taught us, chefs can have pretty bad tempers and zero patience when it comes to their kitchens. That’s definitely true of Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a two-star Michelin rockstar of a chef who was the talk of the town before he crashed and burned badly, and is now looking to slowly redeem himself. We meet Adam after a self-imposed exile where he sentenced himself to shelling a million oysters. Having paid his penance, he sets his sights on the London restaurant of an old colleague, Tony (Daniel Bruhl), and crucially, on acquiring that elusive third Michelin star. In order to do that, Adam recruits some of his old acquaintances (those willing to forgive him for past transgressions) and he also manipulates a brilliant female chef named Helene (Sienna Miller) into leaving her job and working for him.
While the film plays out largely how one would expect, screenwriter Steven Knight (behind such beauties as the inventive Locke and the terrific Eastern Promises) and director John Wells (August: Osage County) manage to keep the formula fresh. Yes, the romance between Adam and Helene may be predictable, but it unspools organically; the supporting characters are memorably scripted and each get their moment (Daniel Bruhl is a standout as the buttoned-up Maitre D who has a soft spot for Adam despite knowing better, while French superstar Omar Sy delivers one of the film’s gut punch surprises); and the lessons learned at the film’s end feel deserved and never lapse into sentimentality.
Burnt ultimately though is Cooper’s film and Adam Jones is possibly the most challenging central character to be found in a mainstream film this year. He’s a volatile mix of charm, talent, arrogance, barely supressed anger, and self-destruction. Those latter traits are on show early when he explodes at his staff in a scene that will have you physically recoiling. Adam says at one point that he enjoys the heat, pressure and the violence of the kitchen, and that’s all in this film, which moves to some dark, ugly places. While he manages to scrape his way to redemption, Cooper never makes his character likeable, but he makes him something better than that: raw and compelling.