As Bradley Cooper’s filmography continues to expand, it’s surprising to find that rather than opting for the expected stereotype of someone with an aesthetic such as himself opting for the frat boy-esque role (which he mastered already in Wedding Crashers and The Hangover trilogy), he instead favors the bad boy gone good persona. And yet, this is quite possibly why his cachet has been a bit lacking of late, save for his roles in David O. Russell movies.
With the back-to-back release of the somewhat overly maligned Aloha and Burnt, Cooper has proven that he finds comfort in playing the part firmly established by Pat in Silver Linings Playbook–which is to say a formerly self-destructive man on the road to redemption. And yet, regardless of how many times he slips into this character type, it appears as though Pat was the pinnacle of his abilities to lend depth to the typecast. In Aloha, his interpretation of Brian Gilcrest, a washed up fighter pilot willing to sell his services to the most depraved of organizations, is arguably more convincing than Burnt‘s Adam Jones, a washed up chef recovering from drug addiction.
Like Brian Gilcrest before him, Adam has a penchant for masochism and women that want to rescue him. After burning many bridges at the Paris restaurant where he earned two Michelin stars (as we’re told in the film, getting even on is a herculean feat), Adam turns up repentant in London after spending time in New Orleans shucking a million oysters as part of his self-imposed punishment. The man he subsequently seeks out is his mentor’s, Jean-Luc, former maître d’, Tony (Daniel Brühl), who is now working at a restaurant called The Langham. Shocked at the sudden re-emergence of Adam, a trainwreck he assumed to be dead (especially since he didn’t show up to Jean-Luc’s funeral), Tony refuses to help him start over again and summarily ejects him from his father’s hotel. Not one to back down after spending so much torturous time out of the kitchen, Adam enlists the help of notorious food critic Simone (Uma Thurman, under-used as usual ever since Kill Bill) to scare Tony into forcing him to use Adam as the chef the night she pops in.
After Adam successfully talks his way into the position of head chef at what is now called Adam Jones at The Langham, Tony gives him the money necessary to get started (his family has it, plus–twist!–he’s in love with Adam), provided he takes weekly drug tests from Tony’s therapist, Dr. Rosshilde (Emma Thompson, almost as random as Uma Thurman being in this movie). With the capital and the tools to commence, Adam goes about corralling the old crew from Paris, even though some of them, like Michel (Omar Sy), have been scorched by Adam’s drug-addled actions–specifically that time Adam released rats into Michel’s kitchen after he left Jean-Luc to open his own restaurant.
Adam also recruits fresh blood in the form of Helene (Sienna Miller, sporting a haircut that vexes), Burnt‘s version of Allison Ng (Emma Stone) from Aloha. Obviously, the sexual tension between them mounts in the form of their diverse cooking styles, which leads Helene to quit after Adam verbally and physically accosts her. But naturally, she returns, because every woman loves a bona fide asshole posing as a genius. In the meantime, the sub-plot of Adam’s drug dealers lusting after the money he still owes them occasionally comes into play.
As The Langham rebuilds its reputation, Adam prepares his staff for the inevitable advent of members of the Michelin committee to slyly attempt to infiltrate without being noticed. The telltale signs they’re looking for is the order of water and the subtle dropping of a fork on the floor. When Adam is alerted to this happening by Tony, he kicks his crew into high-gear to make the perfect meal, only to be shocked when it’s sent back for being too spicy. Turns out, Michel had a vendetta to carry out for that whole rat incident and decided to add cayenne pepper to the sauce. With his whole career and sense of self-worth thrown into the garbage, Adam goes on a bender that leads him to his nemesis’, Reece (Matthew Rhys), restaurant, where he tries to suffocate himself in front of him. The next morning, Reece tells him that they all–every other chef, for all intents and purposes–need Adam around to show them how much further they can push themselves.
With such loving words bestowed upon him from his enemy, the film pretty much takes the expected course from there. Adam starts going to group therapy, he says a proper goodbye to his ex/the daughter of Jean-Luc, Anne Marie (Alicia Vikander, much more worthwhile in The Danish Girl), and fully opens his heart to Helene. For you see, no one can more lazily complete the bad boy gone good character arc than Bradley Cooper. So if that’s the story you want to see, go for Burnt. But if you want to see a more engaging movie about the complex and dramatic world of cooking, opt for Mostly Martha or Ratatouille.