Philip Barantini trades in the kitchen sink for a pressure cooker in realist British drama Boiling Point. Stephen Graham stars as Head Chef Andy, just barely keeping it together in the swirling world of staff shortages—and short tempers.
Boiling Point is an apt name for the newest film from actor-turned-director Philip Barantini, whose film plunges us head first into a busy London restaurant before cranking up the heat. Stephen Graham gives a stellar performance as Andy, an up-and-coming chef having a hard time juggling his private struggles with the demands of managing a popular restaurant. The action, which takes place over the course of a single grueling dinner service, is captured in one impressively choreographed take. Besides three off-menu stakes lopped from tomorrow’s beef—Boiling Point features no cuts.
The action kicks off with Andy apologising over the phone to his (presumably estranged) spouse whilst marching along the pavement. It’s instantly clear that whatever Andy is trudging towards is sucking away the energy he should be devoting to his family, giving this short commute an underlying sense of dread. As he arrives at work, this dread quickly manifests into stress in the form of a surprise visit from the Health Inspector (Thomas Coombes) who takes Andy on a pedantic run through the restaurant’s procedures. This understated but fiery opening sets the stakes for a night which might ultimately prove to be Andy’s—let’s say tipping point.
Joining Andy on the cookline is Sous Chef Carly (Vinette Robinson), a crucial and severely undervalued leader in the kitchen. She’s received a better job offer and is holding out in the hopes that the owner will recognise her worth. Behind them, manning the grill, is the palpably fed up Freeman (Ray Panthaki) who, over the course of the evening, becomes increasingly frustrated at Andy’s lack of organisation and management skills. Carly and Freeman’s emotions contribute to a simmering tension which quickly turns into a rolling boil at the arrival of celebrity chef (and former boss to Andy) Alastair Skye (Jason Femyng). To make matters worse, his dining partner is influential food critic Sara Southworth (Lourdes Faberes), meaning that their table is uniquely placed to ruin Andy’s career—he’s right to smell something fishy at play.
The main draw of Boiling Point is it’s single take, which draws out the theatricality and drama inherent to the world of hospitality. The film is choreographed to perfection, but this fact never betrays the verisimilitude of its setting. Throughout the night, we follow almost every member of staff around the restaurant and are privy to the subtle ways in which their behaviour shifts depending on the space they inhabit. We follow staff members as they have to deal with troublesome customers, stock shortages—even stoned colleagues (one brilliant passage follows Daniel Larkai’s disinterested KP Jake out the back for a toke, offering the audience a brief respite from the drama).
Outside of the two Pastry Chefs, morale is immensely low among staff, just look at their body language. It’s clear that everyone—Andy included—would rather be anywhere else rather than here, and yet the conventions of the restaurant business require them to pretend that they feel right at home. We feel the frustration of the staff when they are belittled by customers, their dissatisfaction at being let down by their colleagues, and yet for the most part they must simply get on with their work (the Front of House staff even having to put a smile on their discontent). Boiling Point captures the emotional strain of working in hospitality with an empathetic lens. Early on there is a suggestion of self harm which is briefly acknowledged and then put aside. It’s a tender moment which is all the more affecting because of how sincerely both chefs recognise that there simply isn’t room for outside troubles inside the kitchen—they have a shift to get through.
At one point a diner refers to Andy’s menu as “unpretentious, simple food”, somewhat betraying the quality of what we see end up on the plate, as well as the care that has gone into it. Barantini’s film is the same, a seemingly simple premise executed with precision and grace. It’s a real palate cleanser.
Boiling Point is an immersive drama which captures the stresses and strains of hospitality. A technical marvel, Barantini’s film is pure cinema—cooked to perfection.
Words by Jake Abatan
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