Boiling Point

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Boiling Point
"Given the state of the things, it's fair to say that some of the situations that will arise are telegraphed ahead of time, but that adds rather than detracts from the tension - after all, aren't all satisfying meals in some ways connected to anticipation?" | Photo: Vertigo Releasing

Sometimes single-take films can be more gimmick than grab - after all, there's a good reason why most people choose to use an editor, not to mention the sneaky cheating in the likes of Birdman. But Philip Barantini, adopting the purist approach of Victoriafinds a sweet marriage of the style with his content to wring tension from every second of his kitchen-set drama. Scaling up the action from his 2019 short of the same name, the technique drives the pace of the action, injecting a feeling of relentlessness that will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked in a busy restaurant.

Barantini and his co-writer James Cummings start not, as you might expect, with a calm before the storm, but at a point just before the beginning of the shift for head chef Andy (Stephen Graham) as he speaks to someone we quickly deduce is his estranged wife about his son. He repeats a mantra of, "Tell him I'm really, really sorry" - which will become a sort of desperate catchphrase for him as the night continues.

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Tensions are already high in the restaurant, too, where a hygiene inspector (Thomas Coombes) is outlining his less than glowing verdict on the place, with everything from potential cross-contamination to a lack of paperwork causing problems. These are just an amuse bouche for an evening that will bring an increasing number of dramas, big and small. From here on in, the action - blocked with the precision of a military operation, even though it has the loose limbed quality of a dance when filmed by Matthew Lewis - weaves back and forth between front of house and the front and back kitchens, with a couple of short interludes outside.

The concentration it must have taken from the actors is a perfect match for the concentration needed by real-life staff in this sort of situation, where food must be timed to the minute. We learn the relationships by immersion as Andy's second in command Carly (Vinette Robinson) is quickly established as the one who has been holding the place together as his life has fragmented. She is now considering leaving for a different restaurant, unless she gets paid for her trouble, while the rest of the staff are a typical mix of nationalities you might find in a kitchen, which allows some language issues to be thrown subtly into the mix, while adding to the general believability of the scenario.

It is set to be a busy night already, in the run-up to Christmas, but things are further gingered up when the front of house manager Beth (Alice Feetham) - who is, notably, the daughter of the restaurant's co-owner - announces that Andy's old mentor and now famous TV cook Alastair Skye (Jason Flemyng) will be joining them for dinner, a situation quickly doubled down on when it seems his intentions may not be entirely altruistic as he arrives with an established restaurant critic (Lourdes Faberes) in tow.

Given the state of the things, it's fair to say that some of the situations that will arise are telegraphed ahead of time, but that adds rather than detracts from the tension - after all, aren't all satisfying meals in some ways connected to anticipation? Also, there's just enough volatility across the board that you're not quite sure what will kick off. Will it be the casually racist diner on Table No7, who is giving waitress Andrea (Lauryn Ajufo) a hard time, or those social media influencers who are demanding steak?

Mood switches are employed with precision as blow-ups are defused or swearing swapped for smiles as a staff member moves from back to front of house. Barantini, as so many actor/directors, knows how to give his stars space to do their thing, so that this becomes as much about lids being barely kept on top of emotions as the outbursts themselves. Graham, as you might expect, brings distilled stress to the central role, but this is very much an ensemble piece that works as much because of its smaller character garnishes as its centrepiece.

Reviewed on: 30 Mar 2022
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Boiling Point packshot
The shift has hardly begun for head chef Andy and he’s already behind with everything. His restaurant is overbooked, there’s a disgruntled inspector combing the kitchen and, if that weren’t enough, a culinary icon and a respected food critic have turned up for dinner.

Director: Philip Barantini

Writer: James Cummings, Philip Barantini

Starring: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Jason Flemyng, Ray Panthaki, Malachi Kirby, Alice Feetham, izuka Hoyle, Hannah Walters, Taz Skylar, Lauryn Ajufo

Year: 2020

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK

Streaming on: Netflix


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