It’s a high pressure working environment – we’ll avoid the obvious puns – but, once you’ve seen Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point, you may never look at a restaurant in quite the same way again. You’ll wonder what’s going on behind the scenes, even though you’ll never find out. Because this is a world where appearances count for everything.
In the centre of this particular maelstrom is high flying chef Andy (Stephen Graham). The day is, as the manager calls it, Mad Friday – the last Friday before Christmas – so the family owned restaurant is fully booked, although as the evening progresses, they accommodate a group without a reservation. It’s a tense environment at the best of times but now it’s seconds away from exploding. And Andy has all manner of problems both at work and away from it.
Barantini’s film started life as a short of the same name, again with Graham in the lead. It was shot in one take – so is this feature version, but now it lasts 90 minutes – and that, coupled with the hand held camera work following the chef and other members of the team around the restaurant makes for an immediate and intimate experience, one fuelled by pure adrenaline. The only time the camera can’t follow somebody is when they retreat into the loo for a cry – which happens more than once – but we can still hear them from the other side of the door.
The reasons why Andy is struggling are hinted at to begin with and then become all-too-clear as the film hurtles towards its climax. It means the job is collapsing around him – there’s an EHO waiting for him when he arrives at work, to find that the restaurant has slipped from a 5 rating to a 3. Orders aren’t up to date, they’re short of some essential items so can’t provide the full menu. His staff are unhappy and his solid-as-a-rock sous chef, Carly (an excellent Vinette Robinson), is stuck between him and everybody else – and she’s had enough. Added to that, restaurant manager Beth (Alice Feetham) is constantly on everybody’s case but clearly doesn’t understand how the place works and won’t let anybody help her. That she’s the owner’s daughter doesn’t help matters.
Inevitably, it all comes to an explosive head, but along the way it oozes stress from every pore, so there are times when you don’t want to look at the screen: you have a horrible feeling you know what’s coming next but you’d rather not see it. What you don’t see coming is the ending, which is shocking and all the more so because it takes place on the other side of a door. You’re only allowed to witness it through glass, with the confusion of muffled sound.
Boiling Point does so much really well. Graham is exemplary, proving yet again – does he need to? – that he’s one of our biggest acting talents, and there’s some great performances among the supporting characters. That it’s been expanded to fit a 90 minute format shows, however, in the story line about a TV chef who is supposedly Andy’s friend. But as a piece of gripping drama, it grabs hold of you from the first moment and never, ever loosens its grip, as well as giving you an insight into an entirely different world. It’s a character study, a slice of life, a riveting drama and a one shot wonder.
Drama | Cert: tbc | London Film Festival, 11, 12, 17 October | Cinemas from 3rd December | Vertigo Releasing |Dir. Philip Barantini | Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Jason Flemyng, Alice Feetham.