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Int’l Critics Line: Todd McCarthy On ‘Boiling Point’

The kitchen takes center stage in Boiling Point, a one-take wonder that thrives on the tension coursing through one night at a trendy London restaurant. The stress level may be cranked artificially high at moments, but director Philip Barantini’s follow-up to his well-received debut — last year’s East End gangster saga Villain — plunges you into the turbulence in the kitchen and out front for the same amount of time it would take to eat a good meal. Saban Films releases the UK-produced Boiling Point domestically in theaters today and on-demand November 23. The drama tied for the most nominations at the upcoming British Independent Film Awards (already converting three of those to wins in the craft categories).


The stakes are amped from the outset in Boiling Point. The moment Chef Andy (Stephan Graham) walks in the door, he’s hit with a crisis: an inspector is in the process of downgrading the place’s health rating from a five to a three. To add insult to injury, the day’s order of turbot is no good.

In the modern fashion, the kitchen area is on full display to the diners. There’s a long bar that isn’t much occupied, but the tables quickly are. Unfortunately for the already stressed Andy, one of the evening’s early guests is a thuggish gangster sort who spends large (he automatically orders the most expensive wine on the list) and complains even larger. Worse, Andy’s former partner turns up in the company of an influential food critic, triggering instant panic among the staff.

These instant crisis-inducers create a sense of somewhat artificially inflated piling on that, once upon a time, would have driven Andy to immediately down a scotch or three. These days, though, he just chugs water and gets on with things as he practices his art of “caressing and finessing,” with a large share of the responsibility now being nervously shouldered by his Number Two, Carly (a very good Vinette Robinson); Andy’s trained her to become as good as she is, but perhaps she now recognizes her need to step out on her own.

It’s a tense evening but, of course, the staff’s travails must not be played out in front of the guests, who fill the place and mostly seem oblivious to the turmoil Andy toils to conceal. The work involved in keeping a first-rate operation on its game can be fascinating in itself, but it sometimes feels as though Barantini doesn’t quite trust this. To cover themselves, he and co-writer James Cummings at times overreact to concoct rather too much melodrama for its own sake when simple observation would have more than sufficed.

As the camera keeps prowling around for just over 90 minutes, the thought occasionally occurs as to how many times Barantini and his well-trained crew had to stop due to a technical problem, blown lines or some other misfortune that would require starting all over again from the beginning. There’s nothing sacrosanct about shooting a movie all in one take other than for aesthetic purity and bragging rights. Would the film be any different if, when Andy needs to get back to the kitchen from kibitzing with a customer out front, Barantini simply eliminated the little journey and cut to him approaching his smoking and sizzling office?

Not at all. As graceful and beautiful as it is to shoot events in continuous movement without interruption, not cutting can also merely be a question of having “pulled it off.” At times, then, uninterrupted takes can as easily pull you out of a movie as they can serve to express movement, beauty and the sheer passing of time in the most precise way possible.

That said, the director and his stalwart cinematographer Matthew Lewis, cover the action with nimble grace and no perceptible faux pas, even if one outdoor scene in back of the restaurant is so dark it’s hard to gauge what’s going on.

Soggy with the weight of exhausting effort, myriad worries and responsibility for a large young staff, Andy seems to be teetering on the edge between brilliance and burn-out; under no circumstances would one choose to work with this kind of intensity for too long. Graham surely conveys the man’s burden with a wary nod to the realities embedded in the profession, and the film gives one a good idea both of what it takes to succeed in the kitchen and how you might not want to stay there forever.

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