Boiling Point, 2021.
Directed by Philip Barantini.
Starring Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Alice Feetham, Jason Flemyng, Ray Panthaki, Lourdes Faberes, Lauryn Ajufo and Hannah Walters.
On one of the busiest nights of the year, a harried head chef and his team attempt to put together high-quality cuisine under immense pressure.
Stephen Graham is one of the best actors on the planet. Boiling Point begins with him walking through the streets of London into the fancy restaurant where he works as head chef, leaving a jittery voicemail message to his ex about their child. It’s a routine piece of scene-setting, but in the hands of Graham it becomes something special. In many ways, writer-director Philip Barantini’s film is the perfect showcase for a performer with his level of intensity – it’s a sharp, single-take thriller that thrives on its acute sense of stress.
Graham’s inventive chef Andy has been distracted at work recently, struggling with problems in his personal life, and as a result he has been missing out on orders and enhancing the workload on the likes of his right-hand woman Carly (Vinette Robinson) and fellow chef Freeman (Ray Panthaki). It’s one of the busiest nights of the year and restaurant manager Beth (Alice Feetham) is piling on the pressure, especially as telly chef Alastair Skye (Jason Flemyng) – Andy’s former colleague – is coming to eat that evening, with food critic Sara (Lourdes Faberes) along for the ride.
There’s an inherent sense of stress and intensity to a restaurant kitchen, which Barantini only amplifies by conveying all of the action in a single take. DP Matthew Lewis’s athletic camera glides around the restaurant, from the staff emptying the bins out back all the way through to the put-upon waiters dealing with racist micro-aggressions and rowdy influencers chancing their arm for a free, off-menu meal. One of the delights of Barantini and James Cummings’ script is in the way it highlights the ways in which every person in the restaurant has their own life and their own struggles, including a waitress’s high-profile audition and the manager’s tearful call to her father, stricken with imposter syndrome.
These myriad sub-plots, which add grace notes but never overwhelm the narrative, serve a functional purpose of course, providing downtime for the likes of Graham and Robinson, who are on screen for the lion’s share of the 90-minute long take. Barantini strikes an elegant balance, delivering these quieter moments without ever letting the tension of the broader narrative dissipate. Credit for this must also go to Aaron May and David Ridley’s music, which accents the expected ambience of a posh eaterie with flickers and flashes of the fraught turmoil going on behind the scenes.
But, of course, a movie of this style rests on the performances of its cast. Fortunately for Boiling Point, everyone brings their A-game, with Graham a typically dependable anchor point. It’s Robinson, though, who stands out the most as the woman picking up the pieces and holding the fort in the wake of Andy’s unravelling mental state. She’s a barely restrained ball of anxiety and frustration, perfectly controlled by Robinson to such an extent that, when she does raise her voice for a slightly stagey monologue, it feels entirely earned and is performed with the same precision as everything else. Flemyng also shines as a smarmy, arrogant foodie, clearly promoted to fame far exceeding his talent.
It’s certainly possible to pick holes in Boiling Point from a narrative point of view, with some of the drama telegraphed far too clearly in advance. However, Barantini conjures such an oppressive tone – it’s probably the most stressful film since Uncut Gems – that slightly obvious storytelling can be forgiven. You’re so busy running on this hamster wheel with the cast and the characters that it’s difficult to care too much if the sinews and tendons of the story are occasionally visible. After all, when you’re watching Stephen Graham at the peak of his considerable acting powers, you’re not thinking about much else.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.