Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Review: Boiling Point

Cavan Gilbey explores the sizzling tensions of Philip Barantini's "fascinating technical feat"

Article Thumbnail

Image Credit: Vertigo Releasing

The world of restaurants seems to be a volatile one. Episodes of Hell’s Kitchen or Kitchen Nightmares depict broken and dysfunctional teams trying to muster up the effort to make something edible; all the while a celebrity chef insults them and screams obscenities into their tearful faces. This environment is a fountain of mostly untouched cinematic potential, the amount of interpersonal drama at play here is ripe for the picking of any good enough director. It’s tight, hot and noisy but customers would never get a glimpse of that world as they sit sipping their White Russians and devouring their Rogan Josh. Director Philip Barantini saw this potential and tapped into it with his 2021 film Boiling Point, a tense drama set over the course of a busy Christmas evening at a prestigious London eatery.

Barantini’s primary technical feat with Boiling Point, and by far the most prominent selling point of the film, is the seamless one-take style. Many films have used this technique before, either with or without clever editing to make it look seamless, and it certainly helps to craft a very particular type of atmosphere. The one-take is chaotic and claustrophobic while also allowing for cinematography that dances across the screen smoothly; 1917 is probably the example most people will remember with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins gliding from quiet vistas to hectic battlegrounds.

However, and this is entirely down to personal taste, I am rarely won over by what is essentially a gimmick that gets a director automatic brownie points. Boiling Point is the exception of that rule as Barantini’s enclosed restaurant dimension could not exist without this technique. The camera obsesses over crowded frames where you feel there’s no room to budge, thus allowing the characters to drag it around to capture the ever-moving nature of restaurant life. There are seldom reflective moments in the film as the camera desperately tries to keep up with waiters and cooks trying to improvise and think on their feet. The one-take feels earnt here as it is the only way to actively capture this profession. You need a medium that can’t stay still, that drags the audience from stressful situation to situation without pause for thought, it is modern immersive cinema at its finest.

At the centre of all this chaos is Stephen Graham (This Is England, Line of Duty) as head-chef Andy Jones, a man at the end of his mental tether. He turns up to work late, fails to put orders for stock in, can’t communicate effectively and struggles with drink and drugs to keep his stress at bay. From the opening moments of the film, in which we witness Andy struggle to keep up with a breakneck health inspector, you get this daunting sense that he’s not all there. Graham captures this with a real sense of distance; there is no maintained eye contact, leaving that for moments of aggression or stress which are about the only moments where Andy’s mind is actually switched on. By the end of the film there is a true lifelessness to Andy, as he cries while snorting a crushed pill before promising a trip to rehab you can’t help but get drawn in by the restraint of Graham’s performance. He still tries to hold it all in but fails as he collapses on the floor of his own restaurant, the audience helplessly trapped behind a door. There is no success story here, just a tragic figure who meets an appropriately tragic end.

The one thing that holds Boiling Point back from true greatness is a distinct lack of focus. Indeed, Andy is the main protagonist but we rarely get insight into what keeps him ticking. The characterisation we are given essentially stems from a couple of scenes which bookend the film, while the rest of the runtime is dedicated o capturing that frantic restaurant atmosphere. Between tense encounters with racist guests, snobbish celebrity chef, and a life-threatening medical emergency, there is little done to build a profile of any of the central cast. The kitchen staff all come across as relatively one dimensional for the most part; they usually come across as generically stressed with only Carly (Vinette Robinson) feeling like a well rounded character, thanks to an excellently performed rant that gives you a true sense of how worn out she’s become with having to pull the weight of the head chef. Perhaps if Barantini had chosen to focus on only a small handful of guests and events rather than the constant flow of influencers, tourists and food critics, then the film might have had a more cohesive feel to it while still maintaining the anxiety-inducing atmosphere.

Speaking of that film critic, if I could choose any scene to highlight from the film then it would be a simple conversion between Jason Flemyng’s celebrity chef Alistair Skye and Loudres Faberes’ mild-mannered food critic Sara Southworth. Skye simply can’t comprehend the dish he’s been served, obsessing over the missing seasoning and sides that he believes would perfect the dish. Sara admits she likes the simplicity of the dish, loves it in fact, and twists that expectation we all had the critic would agree with her celebrity friend. Instead she calmly puts him in his place, proving that the perceived snootiness of food critics ultimately is non-existent and juxtaposes the beliefs that critics assume simplicity is bad.

Boiling Point is a fascinating technical feat as it's just about the only film where the one-take gimmick truly pays off. However, there is a lack of focus throughout the central narrative; some may argue this is entirely intentional to capture the chaos that restaurant staff experience on a daily basis. But for the sake of creating a more cohesive experience using longer and more focused vignettes may have prevented the film from losing me at points.

Latest in Film & TV