Stephen Graham plays a head chef whose entire life is about to explode across 92 sweat-inducing minutes
This taut and tense second feature from British director Philip Barantini works wonders with a filmmaking approach that can often feel like a gimmick – a low-budget drama shot in one continuous take, set on the busiest night of the year in a fancy East London restaurant. The double meaning in the title gets right to the meat of the matter: Boiling Point, by design, makes for incredibly stressful viewing.
Stephen Graham, an actor whose presence alone is always enough to create an air of the unpredictable, plays head chef Andy Jones in a movie that very quickly comes to feel like Uncut Gems in the kitchen, as his personal and professional life is pushed to breaking point over the course of 92 agonising minutes. Just like in Steven Knight's Locke, which had Tom Hardy confined to a car for the length of its runtime, Boiling Point utilises a small space as a pressure cooker in which to draw out its protagonist's shortcomings.
Barantini allows his camera to glide smoothly through the candle-lit restaurant space as though of its own free will. We pinball between customers and staff, between the dining room and the kitchen, hearing snippets of conversation, and finding smaller stories amidst the larger tragedy that's set in motion when Andy arrives late to work clutching a suspicious water bottle.
Some digressions work better than others, though the fast pace means any lesser tangents are at least short-lived. Of course, the execution isn't gimmicky as much as it's entirely suited to the story being told: the high-wire act of juggling a busy night in a restaurant is not so unlike pulling off something as technically precise as this feature.
Graham is typically fantastic as a broken man who's visibly about to snap, walls closing in – few do “stressed out” as well as this actor. He's matched by other standout turns, especially that of Vinette Robinson, whose down to earth performance as sous chef Carly gives us somebody to root for amidst the chaos. There's also a small but brilliantly insufferable role for Thomas Coombes, who plays a jobsworth-y health inspector with the perfect note of condescension – a man who has you clenching your teeth right from the off, setting the tone for the bad day that's about to unfold.
Other cast members prove hit-and-miss, and a few of the big incidents feel a little on the contrived side. There's also a good sprinkling of dodgy dialogue, while the climax leaves something to be desired – a sudden turn that seems less thought out than what precedes it. But this is a technically impressive and gripping film with a real sense of mounting dread about it, packed with enough anxiety as to steer even the most passionate of aspiring chefs away from the profession. A dish served cold, though in this case that's a good thing.
Boiling Point is showing in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from 7 January.Where to watch