Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Beach

The Beach seems to occupy a special place in Leonardo DiCaprio's filmography. Mention the movie among film-literate people, and you're sure to receive eye-rolls across the board. As the film progressed, I found myself wondering what these people were talking about - the movie wasn't bad at all! Slowly, however, the movie suffered from a fate similar to Mark Wahlberg's Rock Star: a great premise, solid opening, and an entertaining second act lead to a hallucinating finale filled with hysteria and cliche. Perhaps the similarity is less coincidental and more a snapshot of the time, since the two films were released in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

The Beach
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Tilda Swinton

Richard (DiCaprio) is a young American backpacking his way across the world in search of an ultimate adventure. He is disillusioned with his travels, discovering that everyone around him (even in foreign countries) just watches TV and checks into hotel rooms to "surround themselves with the comforts of home." Screw this, Richard says. After a chance meeting with a lunatic (fantastically portrayed by Robert Carlyle) results in Richard receiving a map to an isolated island paradise, he grabs the French couple in the hotel room next to him and they head out on their grand adventure. Soon after arriving, though, they quickly find out things aren't as they imagined.

Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) brings his kinetic visual style to the movie, providing a good taste of a directorial style honed in later years with films like Sunshine and Slumdog Millionaire. I was totally into the first two thirds of The Beach: the acting was good all around (including the film debut of Virginie Ledoyen), the story was intriguing, the production design was great (the explorers discover a functioning community on the island, like Swiss Family Robinson on steroids), and the movie was gorgeously shot, helped drastically by its beautiful locations.

In fact, the locations were one of the most important elements of this movie. The filmmakers had to find a secluded beach encased by large cliffs to reinforce the fact that these characters live in an isolated community shut off from the rest of the world.

Abruptly, DiCaprio's character goes off the deep end into a jarring mental transformation. A character named Keaty (one of my favorites - he was like a young Mr. Eko from LOST - played by Paterson Joseph) makes the same observation, pulling Richard aside and asking, "what's wrong with you? Just a couple of weeks ago you were fine!" It was this quick left turn into Crazytown that ultimately held this film back from potential greatness. At one point, Richard is running through the jungle and his world switches into Video Game Mode, like a game from the Sega CD or something.

I think the movie's biggest fault is it tries to tackle too many distinct themes over the course of the running time. There's a "Lord of the Flies" feel to the island; mixed with messages about conservation, isolation, self-preservation, community, adrenaline rushes, betrayal, and loyalty, there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen. This isn't to say that individually, these themes aren't conveyed adequately - quite the opposite. Scenes in which our trio of heroes swim to the forbidden island, leap from a waterfall (pictured above), and narrowly avoid detection in a massive dope field fire on all cylinders and get your pulse pumping. I just think these scenes work better on their own and ultimately comprise a movie that feels a bit all over the map.

A brief interesting connection: "The Beach," the novel on which this film is based, was written by Alex Garland. Garland went on to write the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine, both again directed by Danny Boyle.

If you're a die-hard DiCaprio fan (like myself), then I'd recommend checking out The Beach. All of the performances in the film make it highly watchable (even Tilda Swinton, who I normally loathe, did some nice work here), despite the story going off the rails toward the end. Until next time...


Panther Joe said...

This is one of my favorite DiCaprio movies, who I might add I'm fairly neutral about.

But the way you talk about the ending makes complete sense. I remember the movie having seen it as recently as maybe four years ago and I can't remember for the life of me how it ends. That could be a good thing if you look at it considering replay value.

And for Branz's sake, if you are going to link Crazytown, at least include the music video. And don't hate, that song rules Ben.

Ben Pearson said...

I think I caught the ending with you a few years back, but I've never seen it all the way through until today. I'm glad you still harbor good thoughts about it, because it really is two thirds of a great movie.

I tried linking to the CrazyTown music video, but there was an annoying "DOLBY DIGITAL LOOOOOUUUUUDDDDD BUUUUUUZZZZZZZZZZ" in front of it, so I figured I'd save people the headache in case their speakers were turned to 10 at the very mention of Crazytown. I know mine were.

Angry Video Game Nerd said...

Were they even on a beach?! You can't even trust the title! It's like "Plumbers Don't Where Ties" all over again.

This sounds pretty f*cking awesome though, regardless of the weak ending. Although I'm sure it took everything in your power from linking this to LOST:

"...he was like a young Mr. Eko from LOST..."

Wait, nevermind.