Burnt cooks its finely produced ingredients in an unsanitary frying pan. Buttered halibut fillets drizzled in white wine, served with finely chopped parsley accompanied by an aromatic cream sauce. Soft four-tiered celebration cakes baked to perfection, enveloped in decorative fondant icing. Chorizos oozing paprika-hot orange oil over deliciously sweet, white scallops. To become a Michelin starred chef, takes sacrifice. Devoting precious time and substantial amounts of elbow grease to culinary cuisine. Achieving perfection no matter the cost. For Adam, an ambitious American trained by a high-class Parisian chef, one Michelin Star was not enough. Neither was two. He yearned for that elusive third star, notifying the world that he is the best of the best. Producing “orgasmic” food, not to satisfy hunger, but to create new experiences. Journeys into new unknown flavours.
Wells’ dramatic cookery insight into the pressures of producing perfection, is a meticulously cold feature that singes its potential. The underlying theme is ambition. The strive to become a better person. Adam, epitomising ambition with the exaggerated Gordon Ramsay persona, blurs the line between aspiration and arrogance. Humiliating his staff members, notably forcing single-mother Helene to openly apologise to a piece of turbot, and regularly shouting at his employees that their standards do not match his own. Any cook will tell you that the heat of the kitchen provides a ferocious environment, where pressured remarks should not be taken personally. Unfortunately though, Adam fortifies his arrogant attitude when out of the kitchen, forcing a protagonist to lack humility and humanity.
Knight’s screenplay is undoubtedly the overdone crucial meat ingredient in this feast. Sprinkles of captivating culinary conversations cannot forgive a poorly handled main character whom nobody can relate to. Adam, for all intent and purposes, was an ex-addict whom nearly destroyed his career. Knight attempts to embed a layer of sympathy, persuading us to empathise with Adam whom has progressed optimistically since his downfall. Problem is, the overwrought clichés that infest this succulent dish prevent viewers from wanting to become emotionally invested in his story. The inevitable romance with Helene which destroys her strong-willed character, the underdeveloped bond with Tony (waste of LGBT potential), a second opportunity arising and predictably Adam changing his attitude in a sudden fashion. They diminish a potential savoury character study by succumbing to overdone plot points. Much like a fine-dining kitchen, it’s an incredibly frustrating experience.
Cooper plays the role of arrogance perfectly, and the several moments of anger held much command from his side. Miller, when not falling in love, seamlessly portrayed a strong female cook that could rival Cooper’s vexations. Thompson, Vikander and Thurman offering memorable cameos that added additional delight to the frying pan. Goldman’s cinematography, especially when displaying the scrumptious food items, exerted a clinical yet clean shine. And of course, whilst not impacting the film, Marcus Wareing training Cooper and Miller was the additional red wine sauce to this beef fillet.
Burnt is a competent drama. It has intent. Offering a central ferocious performance amidst its hyperbolic culinary warfare for perfection. Yet, Burnt remains exasperating. The unsavoury nature of the main chef, embodying a personality deemed impossible to relate to, and the eye-rolling clichés of Knight’s script added “enough garlic to kill every vampire in Europe”. Sorry, had to get a Ramsay quote in there somehow...