The Beach

Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Tilda Swinton, Guillaume Canet, Robert Carlyle.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, some strong sexuality, language and drug content.

Review by Matt Heffernan
February 12, 2000

British director Danny Boyle scored big with his first feature film: 1994's Shallow Grave. Instead of a sophomore slump, he made Trainspotting in 1996 and received international acclaim. Of course, the American studios started calling, and now he has made a Leonardo DiCaprio movie for Fox. I guess Ewan McGregor was too busy waving lightsabers and stalking Ashley Judd to join him in the States.

Richard (DiCaprio) is an American in Bangkok, apparently trying to escape whatever he left behind. In his bug-infested hotel room, he meets a crazy Scotsman (Robert Carlyle) who calls himself Daffy Duck. He tells Richard about a secret island in the Gulf of Tonkin on which there is a sheltered lagoon. Crystal-clear water, pure white sand, and all the pot you can smoke growing around you.

The next day, Daffy has killed himself, leaving behind a map for Richard. He goes to the room of a cute French girl at the hotel (Virginie Ledoyen), and asks if she and her erstwhile boyfriend (Guillaume Canet) would like to join him. They make it to the island, where they meet a small commune run by an Englishwoman named Sal (Tilda Swinton). The commune welcomes the plucky threesome, but paradise, they soon find out, comes at a price.

I had read about some of the troubles that Boyle had with Fox while making The Beach. Leo's character actually has some negative attributes ("Gasp! You mean he's not playing Jack Dawson again?") and Boyle's style is a little rough around the edges for the usually slick studio. But, after a strong first half, this film merely becomes a watered down version of a British Doyle film. The wickedly dark humor that made Shallow Grave so interesting is completely absent here. Doyle's flair for surreal visuals is exploited, but not used effectively.

It was nice to see Carlyle up to his old tricks, after a string of parts that were not Scottish psychopaths. His quick departure, however, was a letdown. Leo, who hasn't had a starring role since 1998's The Man in the Iron Mask, shows that he is still willing to take a risk. Whether this film will appeal to his core fan base of teenage girls remains to be seen. It is rated R -- and justly so -- which will make it harder for them to flock to the theatre. Also, it does get awfully weird, and I don't think they really want that.

Leo's next film will be Scorsese's Gangs of New York, about the beginnings of organized crime in America during the mid-19th century. If Scorsese continues the streak he started with Raging Bull and GoodFellas, it could turn out to be the best film of this decade. As for Boyle, he needs to get back with McGregor before they both get swallowed up by the studios.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Beach (2000)

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The Beach, a novel by Alex Garland -- Hardcover
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The Beach - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan