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Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (2021)


Roadrunner is a documentary about the life of Anthony Bourdain. The documentary starts around the release of Kitchen Confidential and culminates with many of Bourdain’s friends looking back on his untimely death in 2018. It does a good job of highlighting the early challenges Bourdain and his production crew had on his first travel show. Like most of us, it took him time to develop the proper skill set to excel. Bourdain and the show grew and refocused on Bourdain’s exploration of the world and culture with food as his framing device.

The film has one large controversy. Much like Parts Unknown, Bourdain’s voice narrates between scenes in the documentary. The voice, at times, is generated by Artificial Intelligence using the hours and hours of existing dialog from throughout Bourdain’s career. This is not disclosed to the viewer in any way but became the topic of discussion when the film was released. Is it ethical to put words into the mouth of someone who has passed away? The AI voice was only used three times. Only one use has been confirmed by the director, Morgan Neville, to read Boudain’s emails. I think this is highly unethical, but documentaries are meant to bolster the creator’s position and can manipulate and edit the content as they see fit.

The documentary leaves lingering questions. It tried very hard to point to Asia Argento’s infidelity as the ultimate cause of his death. It makes a heavy-handed connection between paparazzi photos and his suicide shortly thereafter. The two unknown AI-created narrations leave us all wondering where they are and how much we can trust the entire narrative. The documentary does a good job of exploring Bourdain’s transition out of the kitchen and into television along with his early struggles in the new role. We get to see his evolution as a person, but are the problematic elements of the documentary too much to be saved by the good parts?

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