“If there was any justice in this world, I would have been a dead man two times over,” Anthony Bourdain once wrote. The life of a chef seems stressful, demanding and maddening. Boiling Point shows that. Bourdain has been described as the culinary Hunter S Thompson. He dabbled in drink and drugs as much as that. Gordon Ramsay is popularised for his temper, Wolfgang Puck for quite the opposite. Should Boiling Point ever find a larger audience, it will be on those that depend on the Bourdain’s and Ramsay’s of their generation. Those temperaments and tactical breakdowns that bring the life of a chef straight to the burning heat of a kitchen. It is hard not to find the art and beauty of a kitchen now, but Boiling Point pairs Stephen Graham with all the foibles of the great chefs of a past generation.
Although it is not meant as a love letter to those harsh words and angered icons, it is hard to display it as anything else. Graham’s performance will have the eager connotations of such writers and chefs, but not purposefully. Toeing the line in the heart of darkness of a backroom kitchen is bound to make people angry and violent, but Boiling Point delves into that with vibrant specifics and intensity. Graham makes use of his Liverpudlian accent here. He provides a working-class tone to the one-shot film from director Philip Barantini. It is the balance of the personal problems and professional crises boiling over into one another. Health inspectors, disgruntled staff and family troubles. Magnificent performances hunker around the camera which sways through the restaurant. It is a risk, but it works, very well.
There is always the worry that Boiling Point will not hit on all the topics and stories it entwines within it. The desperation of a head chef, the pains he has to put up with and the annoyances that all take a toll on him. Graham is stunning. The cast rally around him with enviable competency and Boiling Point relies on this cast to provide the triggers for rage, annoyance and sorrow. This is a feature that throws Graham into the spotlight as Andy Jones, but the leaps and bounds he makes as a short-tempered chef come from Vinette Robinson and Ray Panthaki, whose performances are just as credible and engaging as Graham. Their roles are to prop up the big explosive lead, and they do that with subtlety and charm in a film that relies not on record scratches or fancy shot choreography, but raw performance.
Tension bubbles over not just in the kitchen, but the front of house too. Boiling Point presents restaurants not as a place to relax and catch up with old friends, but as a battlefield. It is a war between customers and front of house, front of house and kitchen staff. They are cutthroat beasts and they cannot work in synchronicity. That is the beauty of Barantini’s feature, which is the finest of the year. He has captured the natural flow of a kitchen, the snot-nosed customers looking to make life a living hell for the front of house, and the waiters who wish to move on to something bigger than serving the degenerates that filter in and out of the restaurant. There are no winners in Boiling Point, just people trying to break out and hit their true aspirations. Cooking is hell, working anywhere near that hotbox is hell. Bourdain spoke of it with fondness, but Barantini takes on a general perspective, and it is the latter that flows through with fear and understanding.