Boiling Point

Boiling Point ★★★★½

I’ve worked in a kitchen and, more relevantly, I’ve worked in a badly managed kitchen, run by someone who overbooks and overworks their staff, and from my limited experience, I can say that not only is Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point an absolutely gripping piece of drama, but it’s absolutely spot-on as well. Honestly, I think it’s kind of underplayed compared to my own experiences.
An expansion of Barantini’s earlier short film of the same name, Boiling Point follows head chef Andy (Stephen Graham) and his staff on what is destined to be the worst day of his professional career; the night that will make or break him, and fate has it sights dead set on the latter. Described as “mad Friday”, the restaurant owner has blithely booked out 100 tables full of customers all expecting the very best, and by ‘best,’ they mean ‘whatever they want.’ To make matters worse, Andy has just moved into a new flat and his head is all over the place, leading to a dressing down from the sanitation inspector as soon as he arrives. He passes the message on to his staff, but the real problem is him and he knows it, and as customers start arriving, things go from bad to worse when his condescending old mentor (Jason Flemyng) shows up with a restaurant critic on his arm.

Boiling Point‘s closest relative would be Locke, the mesmeric Tom Hardy solo vehicle, but this is, I think, the better film. The script flawlessly alternates moments of humour and tenderness with intense stress, from dealing with the pr*ck on table 7 and staff arriving late, to the personal burdens and commitments weighing upon each staff member, especially Andy. Once again, it’s an opportunity for Stephen Graham to show what a powerhouse performer he is, but the amazing thing is, he doesn’t even register as a standout because everyone is just that good in this. If forced to pick a standout, I would instead have to go with Vinette Robinson as sous-chef Carly, the overworked one-woman army keeping the restaurant open. But, just as the kitchen staff work as a team, the whole ensemble kick into gear to give a mesmeric virtuoso showcase.
The dialogue and performances were so enthralling that it was twenty minutes in before I noticed that the whole thing was being done in a single take. Normally, I hate this sort of high-wire gimmick, but it was so unobtrusive that it worked perfectly to escalate the tension and place you in the thick of the action, and all the performers were (and are) up to the task. With movies that are all shot in one take, they often begin to feel less like films and more like immersive theatre, and with its realistic setting and brilliantly naturalistic dialogue and intense performances, Boiling Point understands that and makes it a virtue. It’s genuinely up there with Victoria as one of the best uses of a long take I’ve ever seen.
Its worst-case scenario might easily have felt contrived, but it’s so perfectly observed and impeccably played out that its commitment and sincerity never falter. The film knows that in order to keep the heart racing, it’s as important to remind the audience how fragile and human its characters are and how legitimate their pain is as it is to simply put them through the wringer.

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