Dir: Philip Barantini. Starring: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Alice Feetham, Jason Flemyng, Hannah Walters, Malachi Kirby, Ray Panthaki. 15, 95 minutes.
Anyone employed by the service industry might find their fight-or-flight response triggered by Boiling Point’s restaurant-set dramatics. It’s all so unnervingly recognisable – the casually barbaric customers, the self-involved managers, the put-upon junior staff. Director Philip Barantini has recast the fashionable trick of the one-shot film, like Birdman or Russian Ark before it, to illuminate more intimate, workaday truths.
Captured in a single, 90-minute take (with none of Birdman’s hidden edits), Boiling Point crosses back and forth over the invisible line that always bisects these kinds of spaces, dividing the public sphere from the private, the smiling face of hospitality from the quiet panic attack in the backroom. The film is always on the move, and yet somehow oppressively claustrophobic, as the tension gradually builds to the point of no return suggested by its title.
Boiling Point is essentially a feature-length expansion of the 2019 short Barantini made with his co-writer James Cummings, though with a particularly clever switch in locations. The restaurant chosen as a setting here is Jones & Sons, based in Dalston, east London – a low-lit, unpretentious location that features an open kitchen in the corner of its dining space. Cinematographer Matthew Lewis’s camera thus weaves effortlessly between tables and conversations, the delineation between public and private signalled only by how soured the employees’ faces look. We follow a waiter (Gary Lamont) as he retreats from a table of drunk, American women – one of them just groped his backside – as his smile melts into a pained grimace.
Though Baranti’s film covers all manner of daily stresses, its narrative drive lies chiefly with head chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham, reprising his role from the original short). Even from Boiling Point’s opening minutes, you can tell that he’s close to buckling. We first find him on the phone, making desperate apologies for neglecting his son. He then turns up to work, only to find that a health inspector has downgraded his restaurant by two stars, all because he hasn’t filled in the proper paperwork.
His cowardice is bolstered by the ingrained expectation that chefs should, Gordon Ramsay-style, scream at their subordinates. All he’s really doing by chastising them is passing the buck for his own failures. There’s an impressive dexterity to Graham’s work here – Andy, as with so many of the characters in Boiling Point, is someone who we need to both resent, at least to the extent his own employees do, and pity.
The actor pressurises his character’s emotions until they burst out in individual micro-eruptions, sometimes as subtle as the twitch of his mouth – a sign that something bigger, and more destructive, is yet to come. Vinette Robinson, as Andy’s sous-chef Carly, puts in an equally strong turn, shouldering the burden of a woman who’s struggling to separate the friend to whom she’s dedicated outside of work from the boss who’s currently threatening her own career with his mistakes.
These internal conflicts are far more compelling than the incidents Barantini and Cummings sprinkle into their story. Andy’s former boss turned TV chef (Jason Flemyng) walks in. So does a woman with what could be nicely rebranded as “Chekhov's nut allergy”. But it’s Carly’s speech, which ends with the declaration, “I do not get paid enough to deal this s***”, that strikes with the largest force. Boiling Point does a thorough job of parachuting you into the sweaty, unforgiving confines of a restaurant kitchen. It’ll be hard not to cheer in response to those words.