Producers: Bart Ruspoli and Hester Ruoff   Director: Philip Barantini   Screenplay: Philip Barantini and James A. Cummings   Cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Alice Feetham, Jason Flemyng, Ray Panthaki, Malachi Kirby, Lourdes Faberes, Izuka Hoyle, Hannah Walters, Taz Skylar, Daniel Larkai, Lauryn Ajuf and Thomas Coombes    Distributor: Saban Films

Grade: B

Anyone puzzled by the difficulty restaurants are currently having in recruiting staff (and staying open) might take a look at Philip Barantini’s expansion of his 2019 short about a high-pressure Christmas-time night in a tony London eatery whose owner and chief chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) is struggling to keep things together on both professional and personal levels.  Shot in a single, uninterrupted take by cinematographer Matthew Lewis as the camera prowls among staff and diners, “Boiling Point” creates a tense, grueling portrait of management and employees facing mounting stress as they confront problems with customers and one another.

Graham is Andy Jones (the film was actually made at Jones & Sons, in East London).  He’s introduced walking in the evening darkness to work, fielding a telephone call that points to how messed up his home life is.  Upon his arrival at the restaurant he’s greeted not only by his staff, led by sous chef Carly (Vinette Robinson), her aide Freeman (Ray Panthaki) and room manager Beth (Alice Feetham), but by an inspector named Lovejoy (Thomas Coombes), who points out problems in the kitchen but emphasizes serious gaps in the log Andy is supposed to keep meticulously.  As a result, he drops the restaurant’s rating from a five to a three.

That’s only the first of problems Andy has to face.  When he berates various workers, including some recent hires not yet completely trained, for mistakes Lovejoy’s caught or arriving late, he’s confronted by accusations that his repeated failures have contributed more to the situation than theirs.  Carly, on whom he depends, has received an offer elsewhere that carries a higher salary.  Meanwhile Beth seems unable to keep the wait staff under control, while herself being overly accommodating to special requests from customers—like taking off-menu orders from some rowdy guys who are internet influencers—that put extra strain on the cooks.  Other members of the kitchen and wait staff have personal issues about which we hear or see revelatory snatches in passing, though they remain fragmentary.  The result is a constantly shifting morass of roiling emotions, insecurities and failed hopes, made all the more sizzling by the constant workplace pressure. 

The diners add to the stress level.  The influencers expect their waitress to meet their demands.  One beefy fellow turns surly when his initial server, a perky blonde, is replaced by a black colleague.  A woman emphasizes that she has a nut allergy that must be taken into account when filling her order.  And most troublingly, Alastair Skye (Jason Flemyng), a celebrity chef for whom Andy once worked, nitpicks the menu.  He’s also brought along a guest—Sara Southworth (Lourdes Faberes), a noted food critic whom he appears to be nudging toward an unfavorable reaction to the cuisine.  Ultimately, it will be revealed that there’s a further complication to his relationship with Andy—one that helps explain Jones’s frazzled air, and his drug addiction.       

Graham anchors the proceedings as the man at the center of this gastronomic mini-hurricane, never letting up for an instant, but the rest of the cast match his commitment, especially Robinson as his utterly dedicated second-in-command, while Flemyng exudes oiliness as a man who seeks of untrustworthiness from the moment he appears on the scene.  Given the single-tracking-shot nature of the enterprise, one can only imagine the choreographic precision demanded of each and every member of the ensemble as they briefly take center stage—as well as of Barantini and Lewis; rehearsals must have been intense, even if the chaotic feeling integral to the overall ambience allow for a degree of raggedness.

One can take issue with elements of the script by Barantini and James A. Cummings.  There’s an overly manufactured air to some of the crises, the impression that individual parts of the puzzle are constructed to fit too comfortably with others as they’re introduced.  Some of the declamatory dialogues, moreover, are stridently on-the-nose, though the actors’ delivery goes far to compensate.

And whatever the flaws, as a whole the film achieves a riveting portrait of the pressure-cooker environment of a workplace under siege, and the emotional toll it takes.  After watching it, you will probably appreciate the efforts of restaurant workers more than you did before, and perhaps be less likely to snarl at what you consider slow service.  You might also feel the desire to retreat to some cinematic comfort food like “Big Night” (1996) afterward to take the edge off.