Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Riccardo Scarmacio, Sam Keeley, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson
Director: John Wells
Writer: Steven Knight
The tortured genius is a subject that often gets tackled in films from Amadeus to Good Will Hunting right up to Steve Jobs (the film I intend to write about in my next review). The idea of a deeply flawed individual who possesses an extraordinary capacity for brilliance provides so much room for tension and conflict that the drama practically writes itself. It has proved to be such a fascinating topic that four of last year’s eight Oscar nominees for Best Picture, including the winner, featured stories of tortured geniuses and artists. However, just like with any other subject, it is all too easy to produce a generic take on this idea. There are films that often present their protagonists as ‘tortured geniuses’ without providing any profound insight into the ‘torture’ or the ‘genius’. They want to allow these protagonists to achieve some form of redemption in spite of themselves and rely on tired clichés and convenient developments in order to do so. The result is a bland, predictable story of a tortured genius that isn’t compelling and a redemption that isn’t earned.
The tortured genius in this case is Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a gifted chef with self-destructive tendencies who returns from his self-imposed exile to run a restaurant in London. He assumes the post of Head Chef in a restaurant owned by his former colleague Tony (Daniel Brühl) and sets out to recruit his other former colleagues to join his culinary dream team. This proves difficult as many of these chefs still resent Adam for crimes that he committed back in the day. Amongst them is Reece (Matthew Rhys), a three-star Michelin chef (compared to Adam’s two) who antagonistically refuses to ever work with him again. Adam also recruits as his number two Helene (Sienna Miller), a sous-chef of unrealised talent. With a talented team and an advanced kitchen at his disposal, Adam plans to introduce a nonconformist menu of radical methods and unblemished taste in order to earn his third Michelin star.
The problem I had with this film is that it knows what kind of story it wants to tell but doesn’t have the commitment to follow it all the way through or the ambition to dig beneath the surface. We get that Adam is a talented chef with a volatile temper and a weakness for drugs, alcohol and women, but his characterisation beyond that is underwritten and underdeveloped. We are never given a deeper understanding of the motives driving his action or of who he is beneath his abilities and weaknesses. The film’s tendency to manipulate the circumstances around him undermines the evolution he undergoes as a character. I wasn’t at all compelled by his journey because he was never required to make any real risks or sacrifices. He makes a decision not to indulge in any of his vices in order to live a healthier life but is still allowed to get with the love interest anyway. The film throws in a generic moral about how he doesn’t need to succeed in his goals in order to live a fulfilling life but then allows him to succeed in his goals anyway. The film even allows him to succeed in spite of himself since his failures are consistently saved my some lucky twist of fate. Therefore the redemption he receives at the end of this film simply isn’t earned because it doesn’t come at any real cost to him.
Although I did not find myself drawn to the story or the characters, I did think the cast as a whole did a fine job with what they were given. Bradley Cooper is allowed to be loud and explosive in a Gordon-Ramsay-like way in this role and proves himself equal to the task. Sienna Miller continues to be woefully underused in her films and delivers a commendable performance as a generic love interest. Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy and Matthew Rhys also provide notable performances as their respective characters with Brühl in particular clearly enjoying himself. The film even features minor roles for Uma Thurman and Emma Thompson, both of whom deliver far more than the material provided for them. I must also say that the food in this film does look nice and I imagine would be very appealing to any foodies watching the film.
This film is simply uninspired, lacklustre and dull. It offers a familiar story with familiar characters that have been done a hundred times before and doesn’t bring anything new. The most enjoyable part for me was watching the food being cooked because at least then there was something interesting for me to look at. Beyond that and maybe a few laughs here and there was nothing in this film that captivated me or caught my interest. There was some great talent behind the making of this film, not only with the actors but also with the director and screenwriter. John Wells is a formidable director who has done good work on TV and Steven Knight is a marvellous writer. While the talent involved was enough to prevent this film from being downright terrible, everyone who worked on it is capable of producing something better.