Reviewed by Helen Tope
Filmed in one continuous shot, Boiling Point captures the hectic buzz of restaurant life. We follow head chef Andy Jones, as he makes his way to work. He fields phone calls: deciphering his half of the conversation, he is newly separated, struggling with addiction and has only just found a place to live.
His day doesn’t get any better: he arrives late for an appointment with the Health and Safety inspector. The restaurant is an establishment with a smart menu and glossy facade, but Jones has been lapsing in his record-keeping over the last few months, indicative of a struggle to keep a hold on what is happening around him. The camera keeps pace with Jones (played by Stephen Graham) as he makes his rounds through the kitchen. His sous chef, Carly (a brilliant Vinette Robinson) is infuriated at Andy’s inability to keep on top of things. The restaurant is gearing up for its busiest day of the year, and the pressure is well and truly on.
Co-written and directed by Philip Barantini, Boiling Point is a remake of Barantini’s 2019 short. The film moves seamlessly between the kitchen and front of house staff, with tensions sparking between the teams. As the diners arrive, the chaos happening behind the pass threatens to spill out into the restaurant itself.
While the one-shot technique has been done before (Alexander Sokurov’s historical epic Russian Ark is a great example), in Boiling Point Barantini deploys breaths and pauses, rather than a continually moving camera. We are observers, but Barantini gives the unfolding drama room to develop. It gives us (and the characters) some much needed space.
The film also makes room for commentary on the food industry, with Andy’s former colleague turning up at the restaurant. Alastair Skye (an enjoyable performance from Jason Flemyng) is now a hugely successful TV chef, but Boiling Point is careful to make the distinction between mainstream success and the pure, hard graft needed to make a restaurant work. The film is at its best when it breaks down the layers of performance loaded within the dining experience. A waiter camps it up in order to sell cocktails to a group of girls; a customer orders the most expensive bottle of wine and some influencers blag their way to free drinks and dishes that are strictly off-menu. By contrast, Skye has to admit that Andy’s food is the real deal: simple yet skilful. Boiling Point is a love letter to the dedication needed to reach this level. The rare moments of zen within the film are when we see Andy and Carly prep dishes, side by side. Their concentration blots out every other distraction. Andy’s life may be falling apart, but in the kitchen, there are fleeting asides of calm.
Boiling Point excels in terms of technique, but the film is further raised by the performances on screen. Stephen Graham can be relied on to give us a portrait of a man living on the edge, but more than that, Graham digs deeper to find the nuance within the character. Andy’s vulnerability ensures that we’re invested in what happens to him. Balancing Stephen Graham’s magnetic lead, Barantini filters the events of the film through a superb supporting cast. The drama is very much an ensemble piece, most interestingly with Vinette Robinson, Hannah Walters and Lauryn Ajufo giving us a view of the restaurant trade from a woman’s perspective.
Carefully crafted, and building tension that sears to the touch, Boiling Point is a film with power and presence.
Boiling Point is screening at Plymouth Arts Cinema from Friday 28th January – Thursday 3rd February