Review: Raw emotion fills Anthony Bourdain documentary 'Roadrunner'

The life and death of the beloved world traveler and TV host is examined in this fascinating documentary.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The 2018 suicide of rock star chef turned author turned television host Anthony Bourdain left a wound that for many of his fans is still open and still aching. 

Director Morgan Neville nurses those wounds with "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain," his arresting documentary that looks at the life of Bourdain, and how his death framed that life and the character we knew him to be. 

Anthony Bourdain in "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain."

With due respect to the Dos Equis guy, Bourdain may well have been the World's Most Interesting Man. He became an overnight celebrity with the publishing of 2000's "Kitchen Confidential," which sent him, at age 43, on a new path as a world traveler and television host, whose charisma, inquisitive nature and ability to talk to anyone, anywhere made magnificent television on shows like "A Cook's Tour," "No Reservations" and "Parts Unknown." 

He was open about his dark side and his past drug abuse, which made him an even more relatable and darkly fascinating figure. He had a unique ability to bring viewers into his world, and to help them see parts of the globe that they will likely never see through his perspective. 

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Neville, who won an Oscar for his background singers documentary "20 Feet From Stardom" and who has also helmed docs on Keith Richards ("Under the Influence") and Fred Rogers ("Won't You Be My Neighbor"), has reels of footage of Bourdain at his disposal — the man lived on camera — which makes Bourdain feel alive, the narrator of his own story.

He also talks to Bourdain's friends and associates about the man they knew, and he captures their still-raw emotions, their anger at Bourdain's death, in a way that illustrates how suicide can color a life, and how it affects those left behind to pick up the pieces. (Had Bourdain died in a plane crash on the way to his next fabulous adventure, this would've been a different story.) 

"Roadrunner" doesn't put Bourdain on a pedestal; Tony, as his friends called him, would have hated that. It instead takes a hard, honest look at the man, his work, his demons and his legacy, and it offers something his family, friends and fans have needed in the years since his death: catharsis.


'Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain'


Rated R: for language throughout

Running time: 118 minutes

In theaters