None of Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares are a patch on this. Boiling Point is a compulsive real-time drama, set in east London, about a restaurant in meltdown on the busiest night of the year. We know it’s in real time for one particular reason: the film plays out in one unbroken take, which hasn’t been digitally fudged – as it was in Birdman or 1917 – but is genuinely one continuous shot.
This stunt calls for roving camerawork plotted out with smashing choreographic precision by cinematographer/camera operator Matthew Lewis, while all the actors, led by Stephen Graham’s spiralling head chef, remain on constant alert. One minute, we’re privy to blistering spats between Graham’s Andy and his stressed underlings; the next, we’re following Lauryn Ajufo’s waitress to Table 7, where one entitled customer is dead set on being impossible.
The challenge that director Philip Barantini and his whole team have set themselves is a kick to observe, and makes the film come alive as soon as more than one player’s on screen. What works best about Boiling Point is how it braids these two jittery high-wire acts at once: the spectacle of its own making, and the equally fraught one of food-as-theatre, in which just as much can go wrong in a split second, and there isn’t a moment to lose.
Personalities in the lively script, by Barantini and James Cummings, take precedence over an overarching plot. That’s exactly as it should be: in fact, only when you feel the film straining for an arc about the self-medicating Andy and his financial debts to his ex-boss (a funny, raffish Jason Flemyng) does it take a turn for the ordinary. It’s much more compelling in Altman-esque observational mode, feeding off the bustle, friction and human comedy of what running a restaurant is like.
Barantini’s own experiences as a head chef inspired a short film of the same name, also starring Graham, in 2019, which he has hereby expanded with wit and flair. You won’t find a better account of the infamous antipathy between kitchen stalwarts (Ray Panthaki’s dagger-staring meat specialist, say) and their front-of-house colleagues, personified by Alice Feetham’s hapless hostess, who offers steak to a trio of Instagram idiots claiming to be influencers, without realising it’s off the menu.