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Great actors keep ‘Hundred-Foot Journey’ engaging

By Christopher K. Conner

Based on the book by Richard C. Morais, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” begins in Mumbai, India, where the Kadam family runs a popular restaurant.

Hassan (Manish Dayal) is learning to cook under his mother’s guidance. Her influence ends abruptly when the family restaurant is burned down in a post-election riot, and Hassan’s mother is killed in the fire.

“Papa” Kadam (Om Puri) leads his family to England, but finding the vegetables that grow there to be inferior, the family buys an old van and drives around the continent looking for a better place for them to settle. Along the way, Papa and the family taste the produce from the area and decide whether to keep looking.

The family van’s breaks fail outside a small French town, forcing the Kadam family to stay overnight. A local woman, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) offers the family a meal. They consider her food extraordinary and find that everything from it came from the area. Papa returns to the road and goes back to a place he saw for sale. Asking the spirit of his wife, he decides that this is where they are meant to open their restaurant.

While looking over the property, they are confronted by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). She is the proprietor of Le Saule Pleureur across the street. She discourages Papa which seems to firm his resolve to own the restaurant.

Making the necessary arrangements despite the protests of his son Mansur (Amit Shah), the Papa and the Kadam family move in and renovate the place, dubbed Maison Mumbai, sparking a war between Papa and Madame Mallory. Both make life difficult for the town’s mayor by pointing out infractions at the other’s restaurant.

In the background, Hassan learns something of French classical cuisine from Margurite (who works as a sous chef at Le Saule Pleureur) and books she provided to him. On finally tasting some of Hassan’s cooking, Madame Mallory realizes he is a rare talent as a chef, but she does not allow this to break through her tough line against the Kadams.

Only after some men terrorize the family and try to burn down the Maison Mumbai does Madame Mallory soften to them and admit that she wants Hassan to earn her restaurant it’s second Michelin star. This causes a rift between Marguerite and Hassan and their competition does something to push Hassan and finish his transformation into something of a culinary rockstar.

Helen Mirren could take any role and make something of it. What was remarkable in “The Hundred-Foot Journey” was how well Om Puri played next to her. Not overshadowed or overbearing, Puri and Mirren were in balance and worked well on screen together.

Hassan as portrayed by Dayal varies from enlightened to clueless, in command to overwhelmed. While seeming to be simply riding circumstance, Hassan does push forward to exploit opportunities as they arrive.

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” strikes a pleasing balance between scenic imagery, music and plot along with a great set of actors. It is engaging and held my attention throughout. I would say anyone that honestly considers seeing “The Hundred-Foot Journey” should, and will probably enjoy it.

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