Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain Review

Celebrity chefs and the impact they have on food culture is a mesmerising little surge that television has helped along. Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal, even Jamie Oliver must be noted as an influence that at one stage or another has plagued the screens of millions. Few have connected their passion for food with their high standards not just for cuisine, but for the individuals that make it. Fewer still are so inimitable and charming as Anthony Bourdain. The late chef has his life brought to the big screen in Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, where documentarian Morgan Neville shines a light on the life and influential voice of a great celebrity chef.

Narrated spectacularly well by Bourdain himself, the depth of his enjoyment for life is founded in the food and advice that he was given. Part tribute and part legacy act, this documentary feature is an exploration of a great and fascinating artist. Neville sets out to make a film about “who he was,” but Bourdain is unknowable. He is a kinetic personality, though, and Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain portrays him as an incredibly well-read workaholic. He would roll out of bed and sit at his computer, smoking the day away before he had the chance to brush his teeth or set right the wrongs of everyday life. That is the incredible demands of his work. His struggles with addictions are touched on briefly, but he is passively open about it. His real fear is fame, as shown exceptionally well by the way he lived his life, but also a scene where he is told of his best-seller accomplishment. Fear strikes him, not happiness.

But it is not the cookery or the passion at the core of this documentary. Suspending that at times to focus on the tragic death of Bourdain, it feels more like a pop piece of speculative journalism than a documentary that wishes to divulge unknown mysteries that shaped the man many loved to see on their screens. Sometimes the documentary feels a little off-kilter, for Neville takes us through the mentality behind his initial fame and the reactions those around him had. There are sure to be some slower moments, but Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain never gives reason for presenting them. Mountains of interest are to be found in how Bourdain prepared for his writing and his television programming, but there are slower, almost uninteresting moments within. Primarily from the talking head interviews, but those are an inevitable facet of documentary filmmaking.

Even then, with that sour taste in the mouth, it is hard not to find some extraordinary love for Bourdain. He was a fascinating beast. His idols of Hunter S. Thompson and Iggy Pop provide that anti-social credence Bourdain wished to have not just with his career but his writing and his legacy. He embodied both of them far more than most would realise from just a passing glance and a nod of appreciation for his work. Seeing the clips of his work beyond cookery is marvellous. Neville has a few tricks up his sleeve, more than the usual documentary would offer. There is a unique styling to this feature, and it engages with his strange and unpredictable career rather well. His serious ability as a writer, speaker and chef are fascinating, and Neville provides ample footage of interviews gone by, as well as up-to-date talks with a few of Bourdain’s closest allies.

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