REVIEW: When Anthony Bourdain took his own life in 2018, the collective shock and disbelief was immediate and global.
Bourdain seemed to have it all. He was a celebrity chef with the world at his feet.
Bourdain had always wanted to be an author, above all else. He worked in kitchens, eventually rising to become a respected executive chef in the cut-throat world of New York’s ever-evolving and voracious restaurant scene.
“Write what you know” is the greatest and truest cliché of any author’s life – and Bourdain knew restaurants and the underbelly of the Lower East Side better than most.
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Kitchen Confidential was a best-seller – and soon enough the newly sober and mostly happy Bourdain was pushed out from the protection and support of his culinary career and into a new galaxy as a celebrity and host of some wildly popular and slightly ground-breaking TV shows.
The job took Bourdain around the world. But it also exhausted him, destroyed his family life and often brought him close to relapsing into the drug use and excess that had defined his first adult decades.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is director Morgan Neville’s portrait of the man and his work. Neville had the perfect track record for this project. His Twenty Feet From Stardom, Keith Richards: Under The Influence and Best of Enemies – on the Gore Vidal/William F. Buckley debates that engrossed America in 1968 – are all prime examples of a film-maker who knows how to let their subject tell the story.
Neville had access to thousands of hours of footage and audio of Bourdain, as well as the trust and co-operation of some of his closest friends and partners. The character who emerges from the glare of fame and publicity is a nuanced, blazingly intelligent, but deeply lonely figure, who felt he had burned off or chased away his early shots at happiness and was now pursuing some sort of stability, peace and contentment, while still being feted for playing the part of a globe-trotting malcontent.
It turned out to be an impossible equation to solve. The publicity over the end to a romance with the actor Asia Argento maybe provided the final push, although Bourdain had been talking about suicide for years.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is exactly the film you hope it will be. It is respectful and un-sensational, even while it is making public the man who had kept his truest face well hidden. I came out of the film admiring and missing Bourdain even more than I had going in.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is now available to rent from Neon, iTunes, GooglePlay, AroVision, YouTube and Academy OnDemand.