When Anthony Bourdain died of suicide in 2018, it hit the world with a force of an earthquake: he was a man who coupled a devil-may-care cynicism with a huge, beating heart that shone through in everything from his dishes to his documentaries.
In that spirit, Morgan Neville‘s Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain takes us straightforwardly through Bourdain’s highs and lows: His early days as a chef, his runaway success with Kitchen Confidential, the travel shows that would come, his struggles with drug addiction on both sides of his life, and so much more.
His friends and colleagues pop on screen as talking heads — John Lurie, brother Chris, fellow chef David Chang — reflecting on his incredible, mercurial nature…before shaking their heads at what he’d become near the end.
“The least I can do is to see the world through open eyes,” Bourdain confesses of his job’s ethical compass — the responsibility one has as a wealthy white American traveling the globe and observing the cultures and cuisines of the Global South. Neville extends that same empathy right back in Bourdain’s direction, even as interviews and archival footage reveal the kind of abrasive, defensive prick he could be at times.
Why did Anthony Bourdain kill himself? is the question that bleeds through every inch of the doc. But Neville — whose profiles Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and the Oscar-winning 20 Feet from Stardom show a deft hand with understanding his subjects — doesn’t pretend to come away with specific, concrete answers.
But Neville glosses over that to give us a portrait of the man as he was: a vibrant, prickly, deeply-feeling student of the world who overcame his own demons, at least for a while, to become a bulwark for a new kind of American masculinity.
Watching Roadrunner feels like engaging in a kind of collective mourning, a desperate bid to understand a man who meant so much to so many, even if we never met him. For those of us who cared about Tony, whether through the television or a recipe, this is essential viewing.
Where’s It Playing? Roadrunner just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, with a theatrical release slated for July 16th courtesy of Focus Features.