Perfect — this is a word meant to describe something that has no flaws in regards to the objective it was designed to fulfill. It is something that Chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) strives for in his cooking during “Burnt,” directed by John Wells and screenplay by Steven Knight and Michael Kalesniko. While the movie was more than satisfying, there were some excess scenes that the movie could have done without.
The film takes place in London where Jones returns to the kitchen after two years of self-inflicted redemption due to drugs, alcohol and recklessness during his last job in Paris. He now seeks to attain a third Michelin star, something that only the best chefs in the world can receive. In order to return to the scene, Jones assembles his kitchen staff of old acquaintances and young hopefuls much like George Clooney in “Ocean’s Eleven” (unoriginal, but classic). The recruiting is a nice touch of world building and grants some insight into Jones’s character, but some of the characters introduced do not add to the plot and their recruitment scenes could have been cut from the film.
There is one person of note however, Helene (Sienna Miller), a headstrong chef who is not living up to her potential at her current position. Jones coerces her to joining his staff to round out his team, but he soon learns that things have progressed rather far in the time that he has been away. The chemistry that the characters have gives the film excellent zeal that show the fire that we love to believe exists within all artists. Jones is loathe to acknowledge the idea that he needs help in the kitchen so much that he does not eat with his own staff who have embraced new age cooking techniques.
In many of the arts, stagnation is the equivalent of degradation. Cooking is no exception to this law. After a terrible opening night, Jones concedes that he has things to learn about the new era of cooking while Helene aggress that he has the experience to teach her how to be great. During a montage of experimental cooking (as we have become accustomed to seeing in any movie with cooking as the subject), we are graced with elegant music, composed by Rob Simonsen, that pairs well with the vibrant colors of the food created much like an excellent wine. The chemistry between Jones and Helene improves well over the training until he is invited to a restaurant opening.
At the party, Jones encounters his former love Anne Marie (Alicia Vikander) who forces him to recall his past and the troubles that had made him leave Paris. This interaction is redundant as there are other confrontations that Jones goes through that conveys the same message of confronting one’s past. Jones dives deeper into his work, but simultaneously cuts off the human connection that he struggled to from. Jones’s therapist Dr. Rosshilde (Emma Thompson) gives him the cliched advice that needing others is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. However, Jones takes this counsel lightly … that is, until someone who he considered a brother betrays him.
In the film, the Michelin stars are a rating system that is assigned secretly by food critics of the highest caliber. While this goal is perfect for the setting of fine dining, it has been used before and is all too reminiscent of “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” As the one true desire of Jones, this is the opportune moment for the past comes to bite him full on in the face. What follows is a twist I definitely didn’t see coming, which payed off thanks to the good writers and director.
This is a major catalyst in Jones’s development. He falls off the wagon and drinks himself into a daze so powerful that he stumbles into his rival Reece’s (Matthew Rhys) restaurant and cries. In the morning though, Reece explains to Jones that he may not like the idea of relying on other people, that is what makes him great. He is what spurs other chefs, whether they work for him or compete against him. Reece also explains that Jones needs to be prepared to rely on others too though in order to evolve in both cooking and character. A wonderfully rousing speech that would not be out of place in a “Rocky” film.
In the aftermath of his fall, Jones sees that he can in fact count on others, even on people that he fights with. The movie concludes with a revelation that the customers that received the ruined dish were not in fact the Michelin star critics, thus giving Jones another opportunity for perfection (a pretty bow to wrap up the movie). Jones falls back on his team and relaxes enough to join them for a meal. It is the classic tale of the genius learning to intermingle with those whom he considered tools.
Rating: 3.5 stars