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Review: 'Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain'

I remember the day a good friend of mine texted me the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. She was a huge fan of his wildly popular series on CNN.

While I can’t say that I was as hooked as she was, I was still shocked upon hearing the news.

Not that I didn’t respect his enthusiasm for unusual experiences and globe-trotting adventure, I just couldn’t stomach the occasional shot of Bourdain sampling some bizarre delicacy like the bloody, still-beating heart of a venomous cobra.

But his fans loved him and his escapades. Anthony Bourdain seemed to be a man who had it all.

Phenomenal success. A fun, globetrotting job that took him to exotic places and introduced him to culinary offerings that most of his followers could only experience and enjoy vicariously.

He seemed to love what he did. Truly love it. To the max.

But then came the news. And the looming question: Why?

He apparently left no note or explanation. For whatever reason or reasons, he simply chose to take his own life.

That choice impacted everyone who knew him.

In addition to his legion of devotees, there were his friends, colleagues and family members who were devastated by his tragic loss.

The reactions ranged from head-spinning bewilderment to outright anger and rage. In the opening, one of his friends painfully refers to Bourdain as “that asshole who killed himself.”

People were hurt. Deeply hurt. And searching for clues surrounding this dark mystery.

Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain attempts to do just that, compiling revealing behind-the-scenes unguarded moments with frank interviews featuring the people who perhaps knew him best.

There is archival footage tracing the early days of Bourdain as he rose to the top of the restaurant industry eventually writing a tell-all book that garnered international attention.

That led to the opportunity to become the star of his own television series, something he was somewhat reluctant to do.

While his public persona reflected a gregarious, outgoing man hungry for fame and attention, the real Anthony Bourdain was perhaps the opposite of that.

Remarkably, those who knew him saw that he was a bit shy and, at times, anti-social.

He wasn’t as well-traveled as he might have appeared prior to the CNN experience.

He had read about faraway places but had not really visited them in person. He had formed an armchair vision of the world that was about to become shattered when he eventually ventured out into the real world.

Yes, it was a world of endless sights, sounds, smells and tastes, but it was also a world in which poverty and starvation often loomed in the distance, just beyond the camera’s vision.

There was the breakup of his marriages and his separation from his beautiful daughter whom he loved.

There was the crushing failed relationship with movie star and fellow celebrity Asia Argento that ended when paparazzi photos revealed she had left him for someone else.

There was the exhausting work schedule that had him on the road relentlessly traveling virtually nonstop with few breaks to spend at home.

Like so many successful people, he was driven. That kind of intensity in itself can take its toll, as we’ve seen so many times.

Roadrunner never really tries to draw conclusions. Instead, it offers up what it is able to offer up in terms of those unguarded, revealing moments when the camera was running, perhaps unintentionally gathering up bits of Bourdain’s psyche.

The admission is that we will never really know the answers to this dark mystery.

The only thing the film can do is shed some light on Anthony Bourdain’s life and the life experiences that might have contributed to his death.

We’ll simply never know.

But the comments and moments of reflection strewn throughout the film suddenly take on a whole new meaning within the context of what happened. Some of it is eerily strange to see and hear.

Like Citizen Kane, we know how it all ends in the opening reel. In this case many of us know the ending before the film begins.

What we settle in to watch is the story that led to that ending--what led up to it and how all the dots connect. That’s never made clear in either movie. It’s up to us to try to make sense of it all.

To its credit, Roadrunner isn’t cashing in on the fame or tragedy, as much as simply trying to understand it.

Bourdain's death a great loss and it left a great void in the lives of so many people who knew him and loved him.

It may not answer the question of what drove Anthony Bourdain to self-destruction but it does make a case for greater awareness and sensitivity.

You wonder whether some sort of intervention, counseling or just meaningful conversation could have saved him.

At the very least, it is a reminder to each and every one of us that we should be more aware and more proactive when it comes to our own friends and family members who may be reaching out for help.

Even the ones who seem to have it all.

Help is available.


Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is exclusively in theaters now.

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