Cinema polymath David Gordon Green wants to direct every kind of movie from Malickian sun flare panoramas (George Washington, All The Real Girls) to boob comedies (Your Highness and his undisputed masterpiece The Sitter) to road trip 70s throwbacks (the little-seen Prince Avalanche) to Great Actor character studies (the mighty Joe and effete Manglehorn). Now he’s doing his political satire with the George Clooney-sanctioned Our Brand Is Crisis, based on a ND (Notable Documentary) and starring Sandra Bullock, in a role originally meant for Clooney, as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a vaunted campaign strategist brought out of semi-retirement to run the hopeful ascent of shady Bolivian pol Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) whose opposition is spearheaded by her arch-nemesis Pat (Billy Bob Thornton). The problem is…quick, count how many political satires actually work? Besides, say, The Candidate and, I don’t know, Bullworth, the list is pretty anemic, with movies like Wag The Dog and the recent The Campaign ratcheting up nothing but the smugness of their creators trying to score direct hits and emerging with thin movies and even thinner politics. Crisis works best as a drama and behind-the-scenes exposè, with Jane’s collaborators (among them Zoe Kazan, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy and Anthony Mackie) providing a rich sea of character actor idiosyncrasies. What doesn’t work are the jokes, like hijinks involving animals and dud smear commercials. This has to be the least personal film of Green’s career. He shoots Bolivia like it was anyplace (contrast this with the tactile dread Denis Villeneuve brought to the Mexico of Sicario) and even his usually rich cinematographer Tim Orr hefts up bland Sorkinlike imagery. Still, Bullock’s obsessive grandstanding isn’t a further hindrance—it recalls her underrated turn in the 2009 comedy All About Steve, which was better than her overrated Red State porno The Blind Side—and de Almeida gives a rather thankless role a degree of smarmy depth. Thornton looks like he’d rather be off playing music, and he deserves his own immersion-film like Green gave Cage and Pacino. As it is, Crisis scratches the surface, which Green refused to do in even his crudest paeans to the mainstream.
Burnt (formerly Adam Jones, formerly Chef till it sat in development for so long that Favreau took the title) is a minor film with a major performance by Bradley Cooper. As the formerly titular Adam Jones, exiled star chef who emerges from a past of drug use and fucking people over to start a restaurant in London that will hopefully net him his third Michelin Star, Cooper essentially plays an American Gordon Ramsay—indeed, Ramsay is an executive producer—and, like the notorious celebrity chef, has freakouts and one epic breakdown in the kitchen that heightens the film to must-see status. As someone who has watched hours of Ramsay I always wondered what a great actor would add to his litany of cusses and rage, and seeing Jones after a bad service chewing out his crew (including fellow American Sniper holdover Sienna Miller) makes for an explosion of personality worthy of placement besides real cinematic explosions in Zabriskie Point and The Fury. Yes, the movie begins in a way that makes it feel like it’s own sequel, and the romance and Jones’ redemption strike one as tacked on and unnecessary after screenwriter Steven Knight’s typically astute attention to the details of milieu (he also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises and last year’s great Locke). Yet Cooper’s mastery keeps Burnt compulsively watchable. The food is gorgeously filmed too. Jones wants his work to be perfect, “not ‘good,’ not ‘excellent,’: perfect” and so does Cooper. Unlike Our Brand Is Crisis this movie doesn’t feel overly fussed over and prodded. Burnt doesn’t have too many cooks in the kitchen.