Knife Skills


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Knife Skills
"The connection between activity and identity forms the core of a documentary that gets under the skin."

Research has shown that there are few things in life as universally satisfying as working in a job one enjoys. Learning new skills is up there too, and of course we all enjoy seeing people appreciate the things we create. Before getting involved with the work featured in this film, says one of the prisoners, it has hard to find meaning in life. Now, there is cooking.

Edwin's Restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, took 60 people just released from prison and trained them to be its staff. Around a third of them didn't make it - it's hard to escape the pull of addiction or the hazards of a violent past - but those who did found their lives transformed. Knife Skills follows their journey, showing them at work - demonstrating the numerous different ways they can now chop vegetables - and giving them space to talk about how it has affected them, about that intangible difference between being a criminal and being a chef who used to be a criminal. The connection between activity and identity forms the core of a documentary that gets under the skin.

Copy picture

Brandon, the founder of the restaurant, is himself an ex-con and the presence of his story here adds long-term perspective: there are no quick fixes; the struggle is an ongoing one. As we learn more about him we also learn about the restaurant. This is not a mere sandwich bar but an establishment serving high quality French cuisine which demands serious skills from the trainees. At the same time, they have to learn to work together, something that doesn't always go smoothly as tensions develop between the goal of fitting into society and the goal of preserving personal honour at all costs.

Shot in a clean, crisp style that reflects the dynamics of the kitchen, Knife Skills is brilliantly edited and packs a lot into just 40 minutes. Nominated for an Oscar, it takes a simple story and tells it in a way that is thoughtful, evocative and humane.

Reviewed on: 16 Feb 2018
Share this with others on...
Knife Skills packshot
What does it take to build a world-class French restaurant? What if the staff is almost entirely men and women just out of prison?

Director: Thomas Lennon

Year: 2017

Runtime: 40 minutes

Country: US


Search database: