Life on the front lines of the service industry is tough — we all know that — but Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point wants you to know exactly how emotionally gruelling the job can be. Told in real-time across one particularly eventful evening in a high-class English restaurant, it’s a film that’s intensely gripping, expertly choreographed, and deeply affect.
While it’s more of an ensemble film, the big drawing point here is Stephen Graham, undoubtedly one of the best British actors working today. He plays Andy, the increasingly bedraggled head chef at the unnamed restaurant upon which Boiling Point focuses. We follow him from his first steps into the kitchen before opening time, across an exceptionally busy evening that pushes him, and his colleagues, to the edge of their sanity. Cue a cavalcade of very human disasters, ranging from supposedly undercooked duck to an episode that permeates the film’s climax with tragedy.
Exceptionally, Boiling Point is able to perfectly encapsulate the humdrum mania of working in a bustling kitchen, dealing with constant setbacks, and the inevitable personality clashes that come in such a claustrophobic environment. You’ll see arrogant customers rudely besmirch timid waiting staff, cleaners arriving late and bunking off work, and increasingly brimming tensions that soon erupts into a culinary war of words. Each and every character in Boiling Point‘s ensemble has their own problems to take home – but rather than just telling us, Barantini balances these characters with expert panache.
It’s all down to some of the best film choreography you’ll ever lay your eyes on. Going one better than the likes of Birdman, Boiling Point is filmed entirely in one take, without a single cut. It’s a marvel of filmmaking that so many characters, sequences, and dialogue exchanges come off so seamlessly without hazard. Of course, that’s testament to the direction, which cleverly blocks off certain characters to give their performer a change to recuperate for the next kitchen nightmare.
That closeness doesn’t just perfectly mirror the wildly chaotic atmosphere, but allows the cast to utterly glisten through their performances. Graham is as astounding as ever, with Boiling Point definitive proof that nobody does pent-up anger and emotional exhaustion quite as well as him. He invariably steals every exchange he’s in, but the fellow kitchen members are wildly memorable too.
Vinette Robinson is terrifically measured as fellow head chef Carly, who tussles with a more tempting job offer as the chaos of the night unfolds. Her increasingly seething exchanges with the snooty manager Beth (played with expert venom by Alice Feetham) make for some of the film’s most gripping and nerve-racking exchanges. Also worth a mention is Ray Panthaki as kitchen porter Freeman, who keeps his head down in the background before absolutely imploding towards the end. It’s a masterclass in emotional reserve and knowing when to burst with flair, and he does it with perfection.
More than anything, it’s just a film that is so expertly poised and balanced. With so many characters to juggle, it would’ve been so easy for Barantini to focus solely on Graham, giving him all the room to work. But the decision to spin so many plates at once pays off excellently, with characters brimming with personality – from their first banter-laden exchanges at the pre-shift meeting, to the far more sombre end. That’s on top of subplots that are increasingly tense and important in scale as the film progresses, yet demand unrivalled attention and consideration nonetheless.
It makes Boiling Point a film that truly has no comparisons, carving its own space through some of the best-directed sequences you’ll see all year. It’s anchored by a genuinely flawless ensemble cast brimming with nuanced and subtle performance cues, all sewn together by a director on absolute fire. It’s tense, relatable, and often quite sad, but Boiling Point is an incredible achievement.