Lord of the Highs
The Beach
Review by Ross Anthony

A somewhat snide Leonardo prefaces this "Lord of the Flies" type adventure, "My name is Richard, so what else do you need to know?" As a matter of fact, I would have liked to know that Richard wades on the selfish and untrue side of ordinary. Which could have quickly been established in a brief opening scene.

But "The Beach" does take care to establish the size of Richard's gonads. His beach balls are easily dared. Arriving into a bustling exotic Bangkok, locals promptly challenge Richard into drinking snake blood. Then Robert Carlyle, delivering a fantastically psycho performance as a former resident of the famed beach, more than sparks Richard's interest in the splendidly secret cove three islands off the coast, "I'm not just talking ... 'oh, that's nice, man' ... this place if f'ing perfect."

In need of some companionship (especially female) Richard recruits a French couple to journey with him. By the end of the first act, the three, standing on the second island and staring at the forbidden goal, dare themselves to swim the void.

Up to here, the film rather closely traces a common tourist route. In fact, ten years ago, I flew into Bangkok, crashed at a cheap hostel, got the island paradise speech from a glassy-eyed traveler, hopped the train and boarded the boat out to the same second island where I met up with an Israeli couple. So in a strange way, the film may be roughly nostalgic for those who've made the trip - up to this point anyway. At the time, Koh Pangon was beauty enough, we didn't need to swim the 2K.

Once the trio reaches the forbidden island, "The Beach" dips into a short sequence of which the "Blair Witch Project" would have been envious. An obsessed leader dragging two innocents into the thicket ... but with a much larger budget, and experienced cinematographers.

Soon enough they find the cove haven to end all cove havens and a community of pot-smoking hippies to go with it. "I've got a new vocation: The pursuit of pleasure." The music plays backward during this scene to greater intensify the dizzying beauty. Nicely done.

Leonardo plays the role well, especially in his reactions. Early on he blurts to the violent psycho traveler, "No offense, but you're f'ed in the head." As we await the consequences, Leonardo's facial expressions fill the screen with anticipation, daring and a shady sort of naiveté.

But, in a move we'd not been warmed up to, Richard leaves a copy of the map back on the second island. It is this copy that tempts the major conflict for the rest of the film. A tempt that any self-respecting major conflict would have ignored. But not this one.

Dabbling in surrealism, the film drifts into the dark and deathly, when Richard himself comes to idolize the memory of the aforementioned crazed traveler. Here, the twisted plot becomes savagely captivating. Unfortunately soon after, all this set-up falls like a house made of cards; as the filmmakers opt for a showdown style climax while abandoning what should have been a personal, man vs. selfishness, culmination. The saga dumps to its end, manufacturing the lacerated remains of a theme.

Well paced, acted and filmed, always interesting, with only a few sticky moments; "The Beach" is a small scale, less potent, more commercial "Fight Club." Both films follow a fringe character, start well, continue well, but fail to find an ending that works.

A brief note: Though Richard's map shows the island paradise Northwest of Koh Pangnon; the actual island filmed, Phi Phi Le, is miles away (off of Phuket Island). Additionally, the producers reshaped the sand dunes somewhat and filled out the coast with 100 coconut trees that weren't there prior.

Ross Anthony's Revision Notes: (Read only if you've seen the film)

  • The Beach. Copyright © 2000. Rated R.
  • Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel York, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Robert Carlyle, Tilda Swinton.
  • Directed by Danny Boyle.
  • Screenplay by John Hodge. Based on the book by Alex Garland.
  • Produced by Andrew Macdonald at 20th Century Fox/Figment.


Copyright © 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:18:49 PDT