Celebrity chef and peripatetic TV host Anthony Bourdain is credited as an executive producer of “Bone in the Throat,” a free adaptation of his novel about ambitious restaurateurs and minor-league Mafiosi in Manhattan’s Little Italy, so one must presume he approved of director/co-scripter Graham Henman’s decision to reconstitute the source material as a seriocomic tale of haute cuisine and criminal activity in East London. But the shifts in locale and characterization may not be for every taste: Although entertaining in fits and starts, the filmization too often has the flavor of a reheated leftover from the Guy Ritchie menu. Audiences aren’t likely to sample this middling concoction until it’s served in home-screen platforms.
The plot pivots on the aspirations of Will Reeves (Ed Westwick), the white sheep of a family of mob minions. Will has set his sights on the straight life of a master chef, and is serving his apprenticeship at a swank restaurant named Fork. It’s a great place to work, with a yummy fringe benefit: Sophie (Vanessa Kirby), a beautiful co-worker whose father, Rupert (Rupert Graves), is the restaurant’s owner.
Unfortunately, Will has an intimidating and overbearing uncle, Ronnie (Andy Nyman), who’s dead-set on maintaining family ties. Even more unfortunately, Ronnie is the brute-force muscle man for Charlie (Tom Wilkinson), a crime boss to whom Rupert is heavily indebted.
Will is in the wrong place at the worst time when Ronnie brutally murders Rupert, then carves up the corpse for easy disposal, late one evening in the Fork kitchen. Ronnie commits the foul deed to keep Rupert from snitching to McDougal (Steven Mackintosh), a rule-bending cop bent on building a case against Charlie. As for the inconvenient witness: Ronnie figures his nephew will be bound by family loyalty, and well-founded fear, to keep quiet about the carnage.
But as McDougal presses his investigation, and Sophie comes to fear her missing father is very seriously deceased, Will is driven to force-feed just deserts to everyone capable of making his life miserable and/or short.
While propelling his busy plot forward in a reasonably brisk fashion, first-time feature helmer Henman refrains from emulating the manic pacing and flashy visuals that characterize such Ritchie underworld extravaganzas as “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” But he does lift from the Ritchie playbook when it comes to sprinkling darkly comic garnishments throughout the violent narrative.
Nyman often is wildly funny as the unstable Ronnie, a man who makes only half-hearted attempts to constrain his capacity for violence. (He prefers to eat fish, he says, because meat makes him “aggressive.”) And Tim Plester is amusingly spooky as Skinny, Ronnie’s assistant, who dutifully dons protective garb to avoid bloodstains while dismembering corpses.
Wilkinson earns a few chuckles as the blunt-spoken Charlie evinces pride in operating his own eatery, while Mackintosh breathes fresh life into the stock character of the cop who wields sarcasm as a weapon of choice. Trouble is, there’s a charisma-free zone at the center of the movie. Westwick is credible enough when the time comes for Will to appear scared, shocked or both. But his performance is so unremarkably bland overall, he comes across as nothing more appealing than a glum hunk. Indeed, even during clinches with co-star Kirby that are meant to seem steamy, Westwick remains unappetizingly lukewarm.
Production values are adequate, but foodies will be disappointed to note that relatively little screen time is devoted to details of gourmet cooking.
SXSW Film Review: 'Bone in the Throat'
Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 16, 2015. Running time: 96 MIN.
(U.K.) A Upload Films presentation of a Dignity Film Finance production in association with Hello and Co. Produced by Lenny Beckerman, Maggie Monteith, Nick Thurlow. Executive producers, Anthony Bourdain, Ron Perlman, Jamie Donaldson.
Directed by Graham Henman. Screenplay, Henman, Mark Townend, based on the novel by Anthony Bourdain. Camera (color), Felix Wiedemann; editor, Gabriel Wrye; music, Lorne Balfe; production designer, Miren Maranon; costume designer, Bic Owen; sound, Kieron Wolfson; assistant director, Jonathan Midlane; casting, Sasha Robertson.
Ed Westwick, Tom Wilkinson, Rupert Graves, Vanessa Kirby, John Hannah, Steven Mackintosh, Andy Nyman, Tim Plester.