Did you see one of the greatest documentaries of modern cinema a few years back called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Director Morgan Neville was able to present one of the most dynamic investigations into the life and legacy of Fred Rogers I had ever seen. His film did the impossible and fully embodied the essence of an enigma like Mr. Rogers. This documentary knew Rogers so well that by the end of the film I felt like I truly knew this man who honestly felt unknowable. What talent it takes to craft such a film. I will see any films from Neville going into the future.
Was Neville able to capture that same kind of spark with Roadrunner, a film diving into the complex and tragic life of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain? I can answer that question with a resounding YES. This is a harrowing journey into a man’s life that is more interesting than you can imagine and ends way too young. To get it out of the way, this documentary feels a little long at times with a runtime that nearing reaches two hours. The narrative can feel muddled as well with some shaky transitions between certain time periods and perspectives. But that is it. This film is just as dynamic as Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and even more tragic.
What does Neville do to create such a cinematic experience? First off, this film is quite cinematic. This never once feels like it should be some random true crime documentary on Netflix. These capture the scale, emotions, and the difficulty of balancing the human condition. Roadrunner hooks you from the start with its musical choices and the energy of the proceedings. That punk rocker nature of Bourdain can be felt thoroughly in Neville’s film that is so important to fully understand this dynamic man. Even the ending is so fitting, and we know it because this film accomplished its primary mission (capturing the spirit of Bourdain).
Who was this man named Anthony Bourdain? Bourdain’s life, personality, and legacy is recounted perfectly in this film from a combination of archival footage of the chef as well as plenty of interviews with people close to him. Being able to see Bourdain in his element was fascinating. His writing process, his addictions, and romantic nature bleed through every sequence in a genuine and affecting way. The mystique of this celebrity chef melts away in some ways but never fully banishes it. Bourdain was talented and we were able to see all the skills this man possessed and how he succeeds in all of them. The interviews add new dimensions and perspectives on this man which makes for a more meaningful and fully realized experience.
But why is this film so tragic with its melancholic third act? The addition…that addition changed it all. The obsessive nature of Bourdain is confronted in multiple ways which adds those layers which are enjoyable and intriguing. Whether it was Taekwondo, smoking, heroin, or fighting injustice with the #MeToo Movement, Bourdain’s nature would get to him eventually. Pain on the surface from love-based betrayal and the much deeper corrosion underneath led to this tragic end. The film shows the audience his change over this time (which is hard to watch after seeing his big, bold presence at the start). The people in his life breakdown as they confront the tragic descent of their loved one, friend, or colleague. What an emotional ride this film is.
Are you ready to take on Roadrunner and the amazing life of Anthony Bourdain? From the start with its rocking hook to the end with an equally rocking burst and unique finale, this film will connect you with a man who felt larger-than-life. I never knew much about this man, and I am no fan of celebrity chefs, but I felt so affected by this experience. That is how great Neville is at his work and how amazing of a presence Bourdain was in life. If you are ready to venture on a cathartic journey into the world of a dynamic and bold person, seek out Roadrunner. You will not regret it.