Title: Boiling Point
Director: Philip Barantini
Writers: Philip Barantini, James Cummings
Stars: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Alice Feetham, Jason Flemyng
Right, I’m the first to admit it: I’m not a very good cook. If pressed I can make a fairly decent pizza from the ground up. But that is really the limit of my abilities. And even after that, I’m usually covered in flour, fairy-stressed, and being reprimanded by my wife for spilling pizza topping everywhere.
I do however realize that many carry within them a deep passion for the preparation of food and only get fired up by the stress and excitement of a busy kitchen. And I’ve watched enough Gordon Ramsey to know that it can easily go sideways for even the most professional of chefs.
Stress then is also the main ingredient in Philip Barantini’s feature-length version of his 2019 short Boiling Point. This feature version premiered at the 2021 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and has recently premiered in the UK. Here we are treated to a huge helping of stress with a side order of angst, conflict, and drug abuse, all set during a single night in a high-end London restaurant.
We’re introduced to head chef Andy (played by the always excellent and often sinister Stephen Graham) while he’s on his way to work, smelling of alcohol and regret. Andy is the kind of guy who buries his angst and trauma deep inside while letting the work take over. And through the night, with preparation for opening and the steady stream of guests pouring in, we follow the action, the conflicts, and the frustration in one single shot.
Yes, you read that right. In the 90 or so minutes runtime, the story is told through this single shot. We have of course seen this before, maybe most recently, or at least most famously in Sam Mendes’ war epic 1917. But where that film and others shot this way often makes it feel like a gimmick, Boiling Point draws you in. I quickly forgot about the fact that the whole film was done in a single shot (with no “cheating” like in 1917). In a way, I felt that I had become the newbie on the kitchen staff, and I had to follow the more experienced cooks and waiters around, all while dodging insults and the occasional flying cutlery.
For like 1917, Boiling Point quickly becomes somewhat of a war zone, with infighting among the staff and the diners as “enemy combatants”. There are injuries, shell shock, and maybe even a casualty or two.
The diners themselves are an eclectic bunch. There are couples in love, influencers, a desperate rival restaurant owner (played by Jason Flemyng), and even what seemed like some malicious gangster crawled up from the deepest pits of the London underworld to get at the house’s most expensive wine.
So, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how this will go. What begins with a reprimand by the food inspector devolves into an evening full of desperation. We see Andy’s life quickly unraveling, and we learn not just about him, but his kitchen staff as well.
At first glance, I was a bit skeptical about Boiling Point. With my interest in cooking and cooking shows being what it is, a 90-minute film about the drama behind the scenes of a luxury restaurant didn’t seem very appealing. But I heard about the one-shot style, and I did like 1917, so I found myself watching it. And I was wrong. What I thought would be some sort of dramatized version of a Gordon Ramsay show turned out to be a dramatic, moving, and often darkly funny film about one person’s downfall into stress, alcoholism, and drug abuse. The pacing didn’t flag, and the drama kept me invested in the characters and their stories.
Boiling Point is a treat and one that I would gladly have a second helping of.