The Beach is not Boyle’s most well-known or appreciated film, but calling it unpopular is not quite true either. In fact, this film has grown a cult-like status over the past few years – I contribute this in equal parts to the rising careers of both the director himself and the lead actor. Boyle had done a few big screen movies prior to taking the reigns of The Beach, but it was really the films that he did after this one that defined his career. The same is not true of said lead actor, Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio broke everyone’s heart in 1997’s Titanic and then made a formidable appearance in The Man With the Iron Mask a year later. Suffice to say, the audience that saw this movie in the theaters when it was released was there because either they had read the book on which the movie was based, or wanted to get their fix of Leo.
Therefore, this film is an interesting specimen on many levels. The film is full of Boyle’s boundless and rambunctious style, albeit presented in a more unconventional and unrestrained way than his more recent films are known for. I’d say that the film’s most lasting impact is it’s pure visual splendor and crispness. Be it the difficulties of bringing a book to screen or Boyle’s own lack-of-focus on the plot, this film just doesn’t have the control it needs to make as large an impact in the plot department. This means that The Beach is yet another entry into the category of movies that are more tactically appealing than emotional or thought-provoking. I’m not saying it’s on par with Transformers, but that the isolationist and existential themes that it presents are either half-baked or not delivered in a way to maximize their impact.
Part of the problem is that the film feels like something we’ve seen before. It’s a mash-up of the Swiss Family Robinson, The Mosquito Coast, Castaway, and Lord of the Flies. If you’ve seen all those films, good for you; they are all better than this one. I also can’t help but feel that the popularity of the hit reality TV show Survivor also reduced what originality and initial excitement this film had at the time of its release. The moral dilemmas and difficulties that are much of the focus in The Beach are the same ones that are beamed into our living room weekly on a reality TV show, one of the lowest forms of entertainment known to man. I’ll admit, perhaps I am being unfair and The Beach was a victim of forces beyond its own control, but either way the film is not perfect.
Speaking of not-perfect, I’ve said nothing about Mr. DiCaprio. We all know he can be a great actor, but his performance in this film feels like he is phoning it in. The level of sophistication and maturity that he gave us in Titanic is not present here. It’s almost as if this movie was filmed first or since he received such acclamation from his previous two films he could take it easy. Nevertheless, neither DiCaprio’s underwhelming performance nor the unresolved and familiar story ruin the film. Actually, it is quite enjoyable. The brilliant visuals and adventure-like story more than make up for the shortcomings in other areas. There are also a couple very memorable scenes that only Danny Boyle would have the bravado to pull off. As such, The Beach is an interesting look at a young director at the foot of the mountain of fame that he now sits upon.
Story: Richard doesn’t really have a past, and he doesn’t really have a future either. He is travelling the world, and enjoying every bit of it. One day he meets a seemingly crazy man named Daffy who gives Richard a map to an island paradise. Being young, naive, and with nothing to lose, Richard embarks on an adventure and finally makes it to this island eventually deciding to live there. But while the island is as wonderful as Daffy described, it also has its share of disturbing secrets…Okay (16/25)
Acting: DiCaprio is loose and unfocused as Richard. The incredible mental transformation of his character is not as convincing as it could have been, and the character always feels like some sort of anti-hero. French actors Guillaume Canet and Virginie Ledoyen play Richard’s travel companions. Both of them are at least more grounded in their performances. Robert Carlye plays perhaps the most important character, Daffy, and his performance is very memorable. Tilda Swinton plays a big supporting role and is as strong as we’ve seen her in anything else. The rest of the cast fills their roles well and make the movie a lively place. Okay (18/25)
Direction: Danny Boyle’s stylistic approach to film making is definitely present here. The film is choppy, quick at some points, but slow and dramatic at others. He is using this technique to attempt to control the tone, and for 3/4 of the film it works before it backfires towards the end when the story seems come unglued. Still, there are some very chilling moments in the film that come from the way that Boyle captures them more so than from the story or the characters. Boyle knows how to use sound, colors, and textures to make things stand out. Good (23/25)
Visuals/Music/X-Factor: Again, this film has amazing visuals. The cinematography is spot on and creates an important tone throughout. There are a few times when the editing gets out of control, mostly at the beginning and end, but nonetheless this is a powerful movie as far as making the audience feel that they are part of the scene. The music feels dated, which makes the film feel dated because it is used too often. Finally, this film has earned its cult status not because it offers a unique or completely well-executed movie-viewing experience, but because it is an interesting intersection of two big-name stars’ career paths. Good (22/25)
Rating: (79/100) = C+ (Average)
- What’s Good: Danny Boyle’s infallible style keeps things interesting, brilliant visuals and cinematography keep things looking good, and an adventurous story makes things interesting.
- What’s Bad: DiCaprio is not as gripping as you’d hoped he would be, the film feels dated and familiar, and the story never quite reaches that “next level” like the visuals do.
Summary: Danny Boyle all but saves another book-to-screen adaptation.