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At the end of Morgan Neville’s vibrant, jam-packed documentary, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, there is hardly a dry eye, but this is not hagiography. Bourdain, who died almost exactly three years ago at the age of 61, was many things – cook, sensualist, addict, world traveler – any of which could have served as the guiding stars of the film. But as a writer he found respect, and around his words “Roadrunner” constructs its ominous, restless form.
Those expressive and aromatic words come from Bourdain’s books, his television shows, and several public appearances while Neville argues a personality, and archive footage that’s almost too much for a movie to correlate. After gaining a mid-life fame he mistrusted and a title – celebrity chef – he despised, Bourdain vacillated between a euphoric family man and a disgruntled workaholic. Although he has been free of heroin and cocaine since the late 1980s, he was also devoid of the punishing dining routines he relied on to ward off his demons.
With great insight, Neville shows us both the empath and the narcissist: the man who refused to turn the suffering he saw in war zones into a boring television package, and the one who would betray longtime co-workers to a new lover to please.
“You know, I was missing something, part of me wanted to be a dope devil,” he confesses in a clip. This dark consciousness hovers over interviews full of boisterous anecdotes and loving memories and helps explain a death that many seemed inexplicable. The once miserable, angry child had grown into a brilliant man who sensed that his talent and pain were inextricably linked. “Roadrunner” realizes that he was probably right.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Rated R for raw profanity. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. In theaters.