Sunday, 8 November 2015

Review: Burnt

World of Blackout Film Review

Burnt Poster

Cert: 15 / 101 mins / Dir. John Wells / Trailer
WoB Rating: 3/7

Oh. Do they not have to wear hair-nets in posh kitchens, then? Is that what you're paying top-dollar for? Two-star Michelin hair, prepared by an aggressive narcissist with an open wound on his face? A wound which magically wipes itself clean and dry in the time it takes for a dish to be sent out to a table and instantly returned? A wound which, two scenes later, has completely disappeared? For a film which purports to be all about the detail of high-end restauranting, it's an approach which director John Wells seems to have instilled in his cast, but not his crew*1.

Cooper's chef, Adam, is the archetypal Troubled Soul™, whose affectation is that after coming off the gear, he writes everything in pencil, yet is never seen to be carrying a pencil-sharpener (no, he wouldn't use his chef-knives, even I know that). If only Bradley Cooper The Actor was as snobby about the scripts he chooses as his screen-persona is about food preparation. His pensive narration underscores the film's opening sequence as a washed-up, burned out Adam labours in a job he knows is beneath him. "I sentenced myself to hard labour, shelling oysters…" rumbles the soon-to-be-abandoned voice-over. In the next shot he knifes an aforementioned ill-fated mollusc out of its shell, says "…one million" and walks out of the dingy un-named restaurant headed for pastures new. It's a melodramatically self-indulgent appetiser which sets the tone of the meal to come…

Smaller bugbears? Burnt features not one, not two, but three 'getting stuff done' montages, each set to a light orchestral accompaniment. As with the film surrounding them, not quite Burnt, but definitely over-done. Among the many 'explaining restaurant terminology to a civilian audience' moments, the first-act Star Wars analogy is inexcusably laboured; if only because people who know so little about Star Wars don't make Star Wars analogies. The Michelin-reviewer subplot is embarrassingly over-worked, too; while Daniel Brühl's restaurant-owner Tony patiently states to people who already work in the industry that no-one knows who the inspectors are or what they look like, he then reams off a list of twenty-or-so indicating factors, all of which the reviewers (when they finally arrive) dutifully conform to*2. Oh, and the bizarre line-up of celebrity cameos which feels like a succession of favours being repaid to someone. Bizarre.

But the real problem is that the film expects its audience to automatically be on-side with an ex-druggy, egotistical bully from act one, if only because it does nothing to redeem his character apart from having him bake a last-minute birthday cake for the daughter of the woman he refused to let have the day off work. There is absolutely no progression here, least of all for the central character; all of the things which happen in Adam's favour (Helene's recruitment to the kitchen, the saving-grace of the false-alarm Michelin visit, the pay-off of Adam's drug-debts) happen by chance or through the actions of others, not through Adam's own volition or, y'know, character development. If you want a schmaltzy, feel-good culinary flick, you're better off with last year's The Hundred-Foot Journey or even Chef, both of which had major problems but at least remembered they were meant to be telling a story, rather than just relaying a chain of events.

The fact that I watched this culinary drama whilst working my way through a pick'n'mix bag of assorted jelly sweets and a litre of Diet Coke*3 perhaps suggests that the film wasn't really for me in the first place; although director Wells and writers Steven Knight and Michael Kalesniko seem to employ no more culinary craft than throwing a bunch of standard ingredients into a 100-minute oven and expecting a masterpiece to emerge by the time the clock pings.
It doesn't work like that, as a film like Burnt should damn-well know more than most…

All that said, it's reassuring to know that Adam Jones' restaurant serves its food on actual plates, not chopping boards or bits of slate. Small mercies, eh?

And at least Cooper and Miller got to star with a real, living child, this time around…

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
It ain't.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
This is a sunday evening movie with a bottle of wine, but rent or wait for the telly version, because it's not really worth paying to keep on your shelf.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
In no way, shape or form.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Not by a long shot.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not particularly, somehow.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Burnt stars Mr Bradley Cooper, who voiced Rocket Raccoon in Guardians Of The Galaxy, a film which starred Peter 'the voice of Darth Maul' Serafinowicz.
[All roads lead to Maul, today.]

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 That said, the passage (or indeed existence) of time in this film seems to be another irritation which has been abandoned early in the shooting process. When Sienna Miller's Helene returns to the kitchen she walked out of, the clock on the wall says 7:00, and there's no-one there except for Cooper's Adam. It's daylight outside, but it's not 7am since she saw her daughter off to school two scenes earlier. What-the-living-fuck kind of restaurant has an empty kitchen at 7pm? Even if your earliest table reservations are for 8 (still ridiculous), you'd have staff there prepping the evening's food. Add to this that Adam later walks out of a party when it's still day/evening-light, and Miller finds him sitting on a pallet in Billingsgate Fish Market at 5am; 1) even accounting for the late-dusk of June, has she really been walking around London for seven hours looking for him, and 2) he's not going to get the smell out of that suit. That's ruined.

*2 Besides, Tony actually refers to them as "The Michelin Men" when saying he doesn't know what they look like. Well I'm not an expert, but I'd probably be looking for someone made of fucking tyres, mate. And no, I'm not sorry for that joke.

*3Although I defy anyone to eat more 'healthily' in a cinema, frankly. And no, you can't sneak your own food in. Show a bit of respect…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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