Boiling Point, 2021.
Co-written and directed by Philip Barantini.
Starring Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, and Jason Flemyng.
Enter the relentless pressure of a restaurant kitchen as a head chef wrangles his team on the busiest day of the year.
Adapted from actor-turned-filmmaker Philip Barantini’s 2019 short film of the same name which also starred Stephen Graham, Boiling Point expands the original 22-minute single take short into a 92-minute feature. Despite the sizing-up of scope, the feature-length version also unfurls over an unbroken take, and without the safety net of digital trickery to help iron out the steams. The end result, a cumulation of bravura filmmaking and phenomenal performances, is as gripping as any card-carrying thriller.
Set in a fancy Dalston restaurant, Barantini’s film follows Andy (Graham), the establishment’s proprietor and head chef who attempts to weather an especially hectic Friday night at work while juggling a series of defeating personal woes.
The film’s opening moments pile an avalanche of issues upon Andy’s head; it’s implied that he’s an absentee father who missed a phone call with his son, he’s been living out of a suitcase for the last few months, and to top it off, has his restaurant marked down by an impossibly smug health and safety inspector for a number of relatively benign, easily fixable infractions.
This all occurs before the eatery has even opened for the evening, and with a kitchen largely unprepared for the torrent of incoming customers – including a celebrity chef, a food critic, and a table of obnoxious social media “influencers” – it’s sure to be one of the most trying nights the staff has ever seen.
One could reductively call this anxiety-inducing chamber piece “Locke(d) in a kitchen,” but Barantini’s film has a roving energy very much its own, remaining ever on the move along with Andy and the large cast of characters as they glide throughout the kitchen, the bar, the restaurant area and, on occasion, outside.
For anyone who has never worked in a busy restaurant kitchen, Boiling Point offers enervating, intimate insight into the high-stress nature of such work in all of its thankless, unglamorous glory. Even for a revered chef like Andy, the job is less about cooking skill than it is managing resources, from balancing the oft-conflicting interests of his employees to ensuring food orders are met, paperwork is filled out, and cultural and philosophical differences amid the various tiers of authority are ironed out.
This is a scenario where something as simple as a till roll running out of paper can cause a cascade of wider issues, and while this is effectively Andy’s life, to those working beneath him – especially a markedly apathetic pot-washer – it’s nothing more than a scarcely committed-to gig.
This is without even getting into the performance required of Andy and his team, to not let the pressure disrupt the romantic, relaxed ambiance patrons desire. Beyond that, there’s outwardly rude customers, clueless and picky eaters who insist a lamb be cremated beyond taste, and influencers desperate to hoover up freebies, as well as a more troubling darkness that Andy’s struggling to hold at bay.
If any film shot through a single unbroken take has to weather accusations of gimmickry and the inevitable hand-wringing over whether it’s a real “one-r” or not, it feels like an especially shrewd means through which to capture the breakneck bustle of a restaurant.
While more technically complex variations on the one-r have used sneaky digital seams to sew separate takes together, there’s no such chicanery in Barantini’s film, which was executed as a single 90-minute take for real. Even though we know, by the film’s sheer existence, that the bold feat was successfully pulled off, there’s a tension inherent in such works, where it’s impossible not to consider the myriad ways the run could’ve been derailed.
The danger of performing a 90-minute single take, requiring an harmonious concert of actors, dozens of extras, camera and boom operators, focus pullers, and so on, is mind-boggling to consider, especially with the film containing so much foot travel around the restaurant. As we can assume the project was endlessly workshopped and rehearsed down to the most minute detail, it’s staggering that the end result feels so fluid and naturalistic.
At least as much credit if not more should go to the outstanding cast, though. Graham, one of the most consistently impressive actors of his generation, gives a performance of volcanic intensity as Andy, a man who would clearly rather be anywhere else than the kitchen this night. His aggressive outbursts are however periodically punctuated by moments of soft-spoken contrition, which while not excusing his behaviour at least show the human being cracking underneath the restauranteur-showman veneer.
Matching Graham in every scene is Vinette Robinson, who plays put-upon sous-chef Carly. As the bridge between Andy and the more junior members of the team, she becomes increasingly exasperated with the miscommunications and managerial oversights, all while pondering taking a job offer elsewhere. It’s quite the calling card for the actress, though there’s not a single off-note among the ensemble; every part large or tiny feels perfectly cast, perhaps none more so than Jason Flemyng, who appears intermittently as insufferable celebrity chef Alastair Skye.
Bringing dimension to the many members of the team while maintaining an urgent pace isn’t easy, but Barantini gives us just enough shade to understand the various pressures and perspectives at play; a French member of the kitchen staff, for instance, is struggling to acclimate to the differences in food British food prep, while a pregnant pot-washer laments the excess duties foisted upon her, and a young lad working in the back has a heartbreaking reason for keeping his sleeves rolled down.
The lows of the night are crushing, while the highs are positively euphoric; such is the nature of most every high-stress job, ensuring this frantic drama adds up to a well-rounded, deeply human soup of dreams and frustrations. The ending is sure to cause division among audiences, but the film as a whole will hopefully make them think twice in future before complaining that their food order is taking too long.
Boiling Point expertly combines a masterful ensemble cast – especially Stephen Graham and Vinette Robinson – with an ambitious single-take presentation to wring maximum gut-wrenching suspense out of its drum-tight 92 minutes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.