Despite the Disney machine and its recent films that have paled in comparison to former efforts, so far the general consensus is that the 2015 film year has been somewhat lackluster. And unfortunately for Bradley Cooper, audiences and critics have already charbroiled his newest project, Burnt, his second consecutive underperforming film after Aloha.
Since the rising popularity of big blockbuster franchises, there’s been a question of whether or not smaller films, with no cape-clad crusaders in sight, can make just as much as their big studio siblings. The key—supposedly—to success is to hire only the brightest stars to lead, and producers of films like Burnt hinge potential profits on whether or not that star-power is enough to draw people into the theater.
This past week proved more than ever that even the brightest stars dim, as box offices saw some of the worst openings ever.
On paper, Burnt is pretty much your typical culinary drama. Ex drug-addicted chef, Adam Jones (Cooper), must reinvent himself and repair some bridges he burned in Paris. He opens his own restaurant in London with the help of Helene (Sienna Miller), a brassy sous chef, and his old friend Tony (Daniel Brühl), a headwaiter who harbors a crush. The villain, embodied here in the presence of Montgomery Reece (Matthew Rhys), is a rival chef with whom the protagonist shares an antagonistic relationship.
If Burnt could be called anything, the words bold, groundbreaking or surprising would not apply.
Roughly, the film expends most of its energy building up Jones’ status as an arrogant, OCD chef, and he is almost completely unlikeable. The driving goal behind his ‘redemption’ is the campy plot device of a chef vying for three Michelin stars, the Oscars of the culinary world in which one star makes you the equivalent of Luke Skywalker and three makes you Yoda. It’s only Cooper’s uncanny ability to sink into his role that makes him believable in any sort of way, because director John Wells and screenwriter Steven Knight didn’t give him nearly enough humanity to seem like anything beyond a stock character.
Even Adriano Goldman does a nice job with the cameras; but nice doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Everything looks so neat and perfect that it’s like looking into a hospital, and some entire scenes are sterile and lifeless. For a film that touts its gripping subject matter, there’s hardly enough soul there to make anyone care what happens to the people in it.
Sienna Miller and Daniel Brühl, while they certainly gave good performances, get gypped the most. They suffer roles that reduce their characters’ lives to a simmer, providing the basic ingredients for an uninteresting recipe that we’ve all tasted before. Helene, while colorful, is obviously a love interest since that’s where every professional relationship between a leading man and woman ends up, and Tony’s ‘crush’ revelation can be seen a mile away.
It becomes nothing more than a shallow attempt at a plot twist, completely ignoring all of the potential for character growth and being destroyed by a lack of emotional depth in both Cooper’s and Brühl’s roles.
While Burnt is mostly a boring, unoriginal film, there are two scenes in which the plot actually comes to life.
The first big surprise allows for one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of Cooper’s entire career. In a sequence at Reece’s restaurant, after a purposefully ruined dish seemingly costs Jones his shot at Michelin fame, Jones shows up drunk out of his mind and proceeds to place a bag over his head in a half-baked attempt at suicide.
In a recent interview on Good Day New York, Rhys explained that this entire scene was an improv after a long night of shooting and that he was genuinely concerned for Cooper’s life. The scene itself is the purest example of an actor’s ability to make their audience feel and understand everything that they are experiencing. At first you may laugh with the wired-up Jones while simultaneously looking on with dread as Reece does, but then, as you begin to see a man desperately struggling, you may just feel too uncomfortable to keep watching.
It’s these few solid breaths of life and the prowess of its acting talent that give Burnt what little soul it has.
To contact Lifestyles editor Rhiannon Gilbert email firstname.lastname@example.org.