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The Beach

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Beach

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton
Director: Danny Boyle
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: February 2000
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Guillaume Canet, Staffan Kihlbom, Virginie Ledoyen, Magnus Lindgren, Victoria Smurfit, Robert Carlyle

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

Following the success of Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio had his pick of roles. Instead of opting for something obviously commercial, he has chosen a more risky and dramatically daring venture by starring in the latest film from the Scottish trio behind the cult classic Trainspotting. Along with collaborators Andrew MacDonald and John Hodge, Scottish director Danny Boyle stamped himself as a film maker with a singular and unique vision. However, their subsequent effort, A Life Less Ordinary, was something of a disappointing mish mash that met with a lukewarm response from audiences. Their latest effort is also something of an uneven and at times disappointing film that may struggle to win over audiences.

DiCaprio plays Richard (no surname supplied), a young American who heads off for the dangerous delights of Thailand, wishing to experience sensations and sample sights a little off the beaten track. He learns about a secret island and its fabulous beach from the paranoid and clearly unhinged Daffy (Robert Carlyle) and decides to check it out. Accompanied by fellow tourists Francoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and Etienne (Guillame Canet), Richard heads off to discover this rumoured paradise situated away from the gaudy, flashy, tacky regular tourist traps.

They discover an Eden populated by drop-outs who have established their own community on this remote island, free of need, greed and arcane rules and regulations. They are largely self sufficient, apart from occasional visits to the mainland for supplies. Although they have no real structure to their utopian society, the unofficial leader is Sal (Tilda Swinton, from Orlando, etc), one of the founding members, who rules with a sense of benevolence. This eccentric close knit group share the island with some drug smugglers, although the two vastly different communities exist together in an uneasy and fragile truce. But these outsiders and their malignant presence unwittingly lay the seeds for the inevitable destruction of this idyllic paradise.

Adapted from Alex Garland's acclaimed novel, The Beach is a sort of contemporary parable about paradise lost, mixed with generous overtones of Lord Of the Flies and Blue Lagoon. It takes a different tack regarding the dangers of innocent tourists travelling through exotic regions of Asia that sets it apart from the more familiar territory explored in films like the recent Brokedown Palace, etc.

Boyle certainly has a distinctive and exciting visual style, but it sometimes clashes with the dramatic action of the film and pushes it into a more surreal direction. The film seems to lose direction about half way through, especially when DiCaprio runs around the island like a younger version of Rambo.

DiCaprio plays a thoroughly selfish and unlikeable character. But he spends much of the film without a shirt, which will certainly appeal to female audiences and fans of the actor. But while his performance sometimes lacks coherence, there is still plenty here to suggest that he is capable of delivering impressive performances like those of This Boy's Life, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? when given interesting material to work with.

The Beach has been shot in Thailand, and Darius Khondji's cinematography is certainly gorgeous. The stunning locations are complemented by Angelo Badalamenti's evocative music score. Ultimately though, The Beach is something of a disappointment, especially given the talent involved.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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