Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
STEAK [R]EVOLUTION | 135 min | NR
Directed by: Frank Ribière
Hearing the popping sizzle of steak is enough to make one’s mouth water and stomach rumble. So you can imagine watching director Frank Ribière’s documentary STEAK [R]EVOLUTION is like an exercise in audience restraint to not vacate the confines of the black box theater to get those needs met by the nearest high-end steakhouse. Educational as well as engrossing, the documentary goes on a global hunt in search of the world’s best slab of meat. The filmmakers also hit on trends in the marketplace, like the debate between grain (or “cereal,” as they often refer to it) versus grass-fed cattle, differing cultural farming practices, and even sexism in the industry. While the film can feel sluggish at times, going over information most “foodies” already know, and be all over the map in terms of their numerical steakhouse countdown, it can also delight the senses.
Years ago, Ribière had a meal at New York’s famed steakhouse, Peter Luger, that changed his life. It was then that he got the idea to go on a “road trip” with his butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec to learn about different regions’ cattle practices and meat preparations. Though they mainly wanted to figure out why France remains stagnant in terms of their red meat output and philosophies, resigned to decades-old cattle breeding and rearing practices, the fascinating documentary also chronicles their quest to find the best meat in the world. It takes them to restaurants in Argentina, Canada, England, Japan, Italy, Scotland, and Sweden. Spoiler alert: your local Sizzler [please link that ad] is not on this list.
Though the filmmaker gets hung up on information his film’s demographic will already know (like fat marbling, preferable cuts of meat, and how dry aging works), there’s a good portion that we don’t realize factors into why some steak tastes better than others. Region-specific practices have a lot to do with it; in Japan, Matsuska (virgin female) cattle are massaged daily with straw and sake to Mozart. Side note: in my next life, I would like to be reincarnated as one of these cows, but for now I bet I can find a spa in Little Tokyo that will do this. In Great Britain, the timing of cutting the grass fed to cows makes all the difference. There, cows can sustain on grass alone due to the country’s weather and year-round lushness. And who knew female cattle ranchers had to deal with macho sexism in their line of work? We see this in twenty-something breeder Berenice Walton’s segment.
Overall, STEAK [R]EVOLUTION isn’t quite as effortlessly accessible or universally appealing as other food docos in its category, like STEP UP TO THE PLATE and FOOD, INC. It’s point-and-shoot, utilitarian nature lacks polish that would take it from ordinary to extraordinary. Plus, it lacks focus, diverging from actually answering the question it poses and giving no solid solutions when it comes to French sirloins. Feeling like two different documentaries combined into one, the doco would have been much more successful in its aims had it chosen one avenue or the other – not smashed both together. Ribière interviews butchers, breeders, world renowned chefs, historians and businessmen, and hardly any of them have definitive answers beyond raising and buying humanely cultivated beef. He also doesn’t show slaughterhouses, which is both a blessing (for squeamish folks, like myself) and a cop-out (turning a blind eye to the practice). Nevertheless, the film successfully makes audiences think about where their meat is coming from, and the path it took to get to their tables and tummies.
3.5 out of 5
STEAK [R]EVOLUTION plays ColCoa on April 26. It will be distributed by Kino Lorber.