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...