The Beach


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Beach
"The message is less of a warning against perfection's poison, rather a reminder that 'desire is desire wherever you go'."

In their hyped-to-heaven new movie, the Boyle/MacDonald/Hodge triumvirate (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary) prove something important to those groupies of doom who make a career of belittling famous people for being talentless and pretty. Leonardo DiCaprio - say it loud, say it clear! - did not go down with the ship. The promise he displayed in What's Eating Gilbert Grape and A Boy's Life has been realised.

Richard is an innocent on the backpackers' trail, searching for the secret of whatever - happiness? - in the tourist pit stops of South East Asia. He understands the irony of "traveling 10,000 miles to watch TV and seek out the comforts of home". He may not know why he's doing it, but knows why he isn't.

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Following the crowd, doing the drugs, photographing the sights, playing an American abroad is not why he came to Bangkok. He came because he had the time and the money and it was there that he met Daffy (Robert Carlyle), a crazy Scot, in a downmarket doss house, who gave him a map and told him about the beach.

This is Thailand, where natural beauty literally grows on trees. Before Daffy puts a knife to his anguish, he enthuses a baffled Richard about the paradise he has left. "It's a beach resort for people who don't like beach resorts." Difficult to find, almost impossible to get to, jealously guarded, the place makes Eden look suburban.

Alex Garland's novel became a cult amongst student travelers. John Hodge's script is not as dark, nor as threatening. The message is less of a warning against perfection's poison, rather a reminder that "desire is desire wherever you go". Sex, as usual, can't keep its hands to itself.

The beach is pristine, enclosed by towering cliffs, on a tiny island off the coast of another tiny island. Gun-toting natives, who look like Mexicans from B-picture Westerns, live at one end, guarding fields of marijuana, and a multicultural commune, run by an English games mistress (Tilda Swinton), inhabits the other.

Danny Boyle directs with his customary verve. DiCaprio lives and breathes Richard, always one step away from realising what the hell is going on. This is a film about possession. If you inherit paradise, would you share it with the world? Would you lend your girl to that skinny Yank who can't take a joke? If a man is dying for want of medicine, would you let him to keep a secret?

Beauty stops being an issue. "I tried to remember the person I used to be," Richard says, after losing his innocence. In the end, only one thing matters. Survival.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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An American backpacker searches for happiness in Thailand.
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Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: John Hodge

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Robert Carlyle, Paterson Joseph, Lars Arentz-Hansen, Peter Youngblood Hills, Jerry Swindall, Zelda Tinska, Victoria Smurfit

Year: 2000

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK


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