'Roadrunner' Gets to the Essence of Why Anthony Bourdain Was So Beloved Directed by Morgan Neville
Published Jul 12, 2021At one point in Morgan Neville's documentary, Anthony Bourdain and his TV crew are in Laos, speaking with a father who lost several limbs during the Secret War with the United States. The scene has moved beyond the realm of a travel show, and into one where Bourdain is bereft of any quippy observations. All he can really do is bear witness: "I think the least I can do is see the world with open eyes," he says.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain manages to say a great many things about the man, but it's this scene alone that gets to the essence of why Bourdain was loved by so many. He was no traditional celebrity host; he had never even left the States before his memoir catapulted him to fame. From an audience perspective, he was simply and deeply human in ways that more polished and practiced screen personalities avoided.
The film also works to highlight how his down-to-earth persona stood with the starkest of contrasts against the entire idea of a high-flying reality show and the glitzy lifestyle that would normally accompany such a career path. This is most effectively shown in the cut from Bourdain ankle-deep in animal blood in the Congo to a pair of heels on a red carpet.
But, through interviews with colleagues, collaborators, family and friends, it's that same unvarnished humanity that Roadrunner suggests was part of his painful destiny. It doesn't go so far as to put a definitive answer to what is still a seismically felt public wound, but the implication remains that the end of his road was foretold simply by virtue of who he was.
The end of this documentary is not a surprise to anyone. In fact, the film opens with Bourdain warning you that "this story doesn't have a happy ending." For most of the runtime, you might be able to ignore what you know is coming. Nonetheless, the last 40 or so minutes are extremely hard to watch, as the film chronicles what in retrospect was a descent into unhealthy mental behaviour, so unlike the kind chronicler of the previous hour. It's enough to make you want to shake the screen and ask, "How could no one see this coming?"
It's for that reason that Roadrunner might work better as a portrait of the celebrity globetrotter than it does as an investigation into his tragic death, for both the movie's and its audience's sake. (Focus)