Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Directed by Morgan Neville
“You’re probably going to find out about this anyway, so here’s a little preemptive truth-telling,” Anthony Bourdain warns us at the beginning of Roadrunner. “There’s no happy ending.”
It gets an uneasy laugh because we know Bourdain’s last year was tragic, he took his own life in a small room of a small French hotel. Five days earlier, tabloid photos of his girlfriend (Asia Argento) were published, implying that she was stepping out on Bourdain with a young French man.
By all accounts, Bourdain was obsessed with Argento and she was obsessed with him, until she got bored and pulled away. But Bourdain remained possessed, almost addicted to her, and Roadrunner makes a strong case about what role she played in his suicide.
After all, it’s no coincidence that his last Instagram story before he died was a reference to Violent City, an obscure Italian poliziottesco starring Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas. The film’s opening scene is of a woman’s affair exposed by paparazzi photos. Bourdain didn’t leave a note, but it doesn’t take much to figure out what was going through his mind in his final moments.
But Roadrunner also proves that Bourdain always had these tendencies. Once fame kicked in when his first book (Kitchen Confidential) exploded -- and the documentary utilizes unseen footage of this explosion happening in real time -- Bourdain struggled with fame. He was the typical troubled genius. The tortured artist. Broken.
After all, how odd must it have been for Bourdain to be Bourdain. In Roadrunner, his colleagues repeatedly mentioned how he battled with Imposter Syndrome as well as the inability to separate himself from his public persona, which were one in the same.
While it doesn’t focus entirely focus on it, Roadrunner gives us all the pieces of Bourdain’s suicide puzzle, but it also lets us put them together. Thankfully, the film doesn’t devolve into a he-said/she-said exposé either -- Argento wasn’t even interviewed. Instead, it paints a fairly honest chronological portrait of Bourdain.
Roadrunner is ultimately a good jumping-off point for those who aren’t too well-versed in Bourdain’s work, but it also took one more step in the elimination of purging actors from film forever. Director Morgan Neville used a technique where he created an A.I. model of Bourdain’s voice from old recordings. Is it unnerving to hear a dead man recite commentary in his own documentary? Yes. Is it unethical, if not tasteless? It gets pretty close.
Roadrunner is now playing in the US and UK, and will be released on HBO Max at an unspecified date.