There is nothing worse than dealing with hungry people. Except, maybe, perhaps, dealing with hungry people during a major holiday. I’m not talking about family gatherings around the home and hearth, I’m talking about going out to eat. You want to see the worst of us, go to a restaurant and wait. Don’t speak, just observe. Over time, you’ll start to realize that the service industry is a broken system because “the customers is always right,” which translates to the staff being treated like garbage. We’re talking micro-aggressions, racism, sexism (sometimes connected to assault), and more as the clientele put the staff through their paces all to see how much tip may be left behind. Rather than it being an interaction between people, an engagement of sharing, it becomes a transaction propelled by entitlement with the front and the back of the kitchen often getting the short shrift time and again. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, buckle up tight before checking out director Philip Barantini’s (Villain) and co-writer James Cummings’s feature-length adaptation of their 2019 short film Boiling Point. You’ll never look at eating out the same.
It’s the holidays in London and head chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) is feeling the pressure to deliver every which way he looks. Even before he gets to the front door of his restaurant, he’s already behind, missing his son’s competition because he was behind on moving into his new apartment. Once in the door, things continue to push him backward as he discovers a surprise health inspection nearly complete, accompanied by news he’d rather not hear. With each choice Andy makes, he’s either too hard or too easy on his team, constantly shifting so as to get the best out of them. But amid the regular customers, a proposal, a special guest, and more, all Andy can do is try to survive the night without everything he’s worked for coming undone.
The whole of Boiling Point is technically impressive. Barantini and cinematographer Matthew Lewis (Villain) construct a story that’s presented entirely in one-take. This means that, whether a trick of editing or actually shot as one fluid camera shot, Boiling Point appears to the audience as happening in one fluid take from start to finish. This isn’t necessarily anything new in cinema as long takes have been around for decades, but achieving a oner, as they are called in filmmaking, so that the use adds to the story, that’s where things become remarkable. For instance, Sam Mendes’s 1917 (2019) is shot to look like a oner but it’s clearly not as the story takes place over a period of time longer than the runtime. This requires Mendes to not only use several camera tricks to hide the edits, but find ways for the narrative to fit the limitations of the narrative. Barantini and Cummings circumvent this almost entirely as it appears as though everything that happens within Boiling Point occurs in real-time. There’s some dialogue suggestive of more time passing than we think, but that could just as easily be exaggerated within the context of the scene. By keeping it as close to real-time as possible, Barantini and Cummings created an amplified sense of tension that wouldn’t exist in a standard film. There’s plenty of tension at play within the narrative as Andy struggles to deal with one crisis after another (both interpersonal and professional), but by not giving the narrative any kind of real break that come from cuts or editing, we, as the audience, always feel the fire of the moment. As for the editing, well, despite looking for them, I couldn’t find a single edit present. In the production notes, Barantini states that filming wasn’t finished when lockdown began, implying that what we see is edited in some fashion and not really a true oner. Credit where credit’s due, editor Alex Fountain (Villain), Lewis, and Barantini offer a seamless experience that pulls you further in with each passing second thanks to a presentation that’s far similar to a documentary than a traditional narrative.
Boiling Point might be technically impressive, but it’s the performances which push it further to nail-biting territory. American audiences recently saw lead actor Graham in Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021), but he’s as versatile as they come as evidenced by performances from The Irishman and Rocketman (both 2019 pictures), plenty of television, and a phenomenal performance as Tommy in 2000’s Snatch. With Boiling Point he shows off something I don’t think we’ve seen yet (certainly I haven’t, which may well be a personal failing): playing a character who’s lost before he’s begun, yet never gives up in his Sisyphean effort to achieve success. While Vinette Robinson’s (Sherlock) Carly may seem like little more than Andy’s indomitable sous chef at first, Robinson gives Carly a depth that mixes talent, drive, and a seething rage anyone who’s ever felt overworked and underappreciated will understand. Though the film is primarily Graham’s with quite a bit of focus on Robinson, much of the film is comprised of the rest of the front and back of house staff. This means that Boiling Point possesses a very large cast, each member given a moment or two to make themselves known. Because of this, the whole film is less of a one-character tale and far more of an ensemble piece, something which becomes more and more apparent as dinner service goes on. When a staff is communicating and supporting each other, there is no “I,” only a “We.” That the film finds moments to allow for supporting characters to have their moment, good or bad, and still not feel like we’ve lost sight of Andy, or anyone else, is both a testament to the performances and the script.
Where the film struggles is landing the elements of the interpersonal that light many of the fires which build throughout the film. There’s a moment when a bartender is managing a table and gets groped by one of several women he’s helping. After walking away, he expresses his frustration, is given a tiny bit of support, and then the film goes on. Prior to this, there’s an incident of racial tension between a table and their server which, ultimately, goes nowhere. Both of these are excellent examples of things that go on in a restaurant that are rarely addressed and it is barely done so here. Granted, it happens to characters that are less prominent to the slowly revealed main story following Andy, but these altercations color the emotional mindset of the restaurant. Moments like these with the other characters often come during a natural break from Andy, Carly, or other staff, but they rarely come back around to mean something. Even a documentary would take the time to address issues like this, to provide a stance of some kind, but Barantini doesn’t and that lack of opinion is noticeable after a while. As the central narrative weaves throughout the restaurant, it’s difficult to care about these side stories when there’s little outcome or correlation beyond presenting a little unnoticed truth.
According to the press notes, Barantini spent 12 years in the service industry before shifting into filmmaking. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, you’ll notice all the little things that absolutely ring true. It’s not just the customers who forget they are dealing with flesh-and-blood humans, but the strangely pugnacious personalities of the cooks, the sensitivities of the bakers, and the ready-for-a-good-time attitudes of the wait staff. Barantini captures the atmosphere of Boiling Point so perfectly that I had flashbacks to my time working at O’Charley’s, which is nowhere near the fine dining going on here, but shares overlapping traits which are common in any place where people are served food. Given the choice, I’d never go back to that lifestyle and Boiling Point offers a strong point as to why. There’s nothing worse than serving hungry people. The one exception might be the pressure to perform at 100% at every moment of your shift, even when you work a double or triple. That might be a little worse.
In select theaters November 19th, 2021.
Available on VOD and digital November 23rd, 2021.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.