After the global phenomenon that was _Titanic_, Leonardo DiCaprio truly
was the "King of the World" (sorry, James Cameron), having the newfound
power to choose whatever follow-up project he wanted--and at any price.
But much like his co-star Kate Winslet, DiCaprio has shunned obvious
blockbuster efforts and instead opted for more uncommercial works--such
as Woody Allen's _Celebrity_ and now _The_Beach_, a stylish and
unconventional drama that certainly won't earn him much favor with his
fanbase of screaming teenage girls.
That demographic may appreciate the fact that _The_Beach_ gives the
twentysomething DiCaprio ample opportunity to show off his shockingly
pre-pubescent physique. Such flesh-baring may lead one to think that
Danny Boyle's adaptation of Alex Garland's novel is a glamour project,
but it isn't. In fact, I don't think that young female audience will
otherwise find much interest with the fairly dark story of DiCaprio's
Richard, an American on vacation in Thailand, who sets out to find a
legendary island paradise along with a French couple (Virginie Ledoyen
and Guillaume Canet). They succeed, only to find a secret society led by
the mysterious Sal (Tilda Swinton), who, after some initial trepidation,
welcomes the newcomers into the exclusive and self-sufficient community,
which is sort of a perpetual beach resort.
The message of _The_Beach_ does not take long to come clear; it is
rather obvious that reality will ultimately creep in and shatter the
delusion of such a utopian lifestyle. The romantic subplot, involving
Richard and Ledoyen's Françoise, never really catches fire. That fact is
partly due to the screenplay by longtime Boyle collaborator John Hodge,
which doesn't quite establish strong character foundations on the page,
hence making some of Richard's late character turns feel arbitrary.
However, _The_Beach_ is a less a film about its narrative than its
style, and as he has in the past (excepting his last film, the
disastrous-on-all-levels _A_Life_Less_Ordinary_), Boyle is able to engage
the audience with his style when the script falters. His forays into
surrealism are especially inspired, such as a strange scene where
Richard's jungle adventures literally turn into a video game. This scene
was met with much derisive laughter from the audience with whom I saw the
film, but it is actually a rather inventive way to show how immaturely
and lightly he takes such a real and serious situation. Boyle is ably
supported by cinematographer Darius Khondji, who makes the beach as
impossibly beautiful as it should be.
Adding immeasurably to _The_Beach_'s watchability is, indeed, DiCaprio.
His teen idol status may be the primary reason he gets so much ink in the
press now, but his talent will keep his name in the memory for years to
come. _The_Beach_ is certain to fail at the box office (I can see the
headlines now--"Leo's Post-_Titanic_ Bellyflop"), but it further proves
DiCaprio to be an interesting and boldly risk-taking actor--even if the
risks don't always completely pay off.