Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Paterson Joseph, Lars Arentz-Hansen and Robert Carlyle
Plot: A group of backpackers hear a rumour about a secret beach, depicted as paradise, but when they arrive at their destination, they learn about the true corruption of secrecy.
People have compared this movie to the Lord of the Flies, but after watching this movie, I do not believe that this is a fair comparison. Sure, I get the connections between the two films; this is essentially a group of people on an island, breaking away and forming their own society. Of course, living away from the rest of the world doesn’t go to plan and the inhabitants of the island begin a steep descent into insanity. It sounds exactly like Lord of the Flies, except with a lot more cannabis. However, other than the broad strokes, the Beach is a totally different animal. For one, these characters are not trapped; we could argue everything they do is from their own free will, although that particular point is open for dissection. Danny Boyle has a point to make and in the deeper meaning, the Beach stands out as an impressive piece of cinema.
The main moral here for me was secrecy and how it corrupts. The Beach is essentially about a beach (the first draft of this review was literally just that sentence), that is the world’s best kept secret in Thailand. Those that find it want to keep it at its state of serenity and peace, so they take every precaution at making sure no one from the outside finds out about this island. However, Boyle discusses the idea that secrets never stay secret. He shows this through several side-plots, always attempting some form of secrecy. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the secrets never stay private; there are consequences for all of the actions. The secrets also corrupt people and Leonardo Di Caprio portrays the man crumbling under this whole society really well. However, that is forgetting the more subtle decline of Tilda Swinton’s controlling leader and the blissful ignorance of the entire group. Book purists hate some of the changes Boyle has made to the novel, but I believe that those deviations help get across his intended message easier, making this movie far more substantial than any other director would have.
I cannot attempt a review of the Beach without bringing up a powerhouse performance from Leonardo Di Caprio. It is easy to compliment him these days, as almost every movie he makes gets showered with nominations. Even the Great Gatsby, which disappointed most people, was met with fans of the book admitting that Di Caprio was the perfect cinematic incarnation of Gatsby. However, there is something about watching him at this young age and being forced to admit that he was just as good back then. Sometimes we could argue that he divulges into over-acting, but the same melodrama gives the Beach so much more gravitas, making it difficult to count against the movie. His backpacker character symbolises everything about the standard American tourist that thinks he knows everything. His narration is self-confident, yet as we watch his character fall apart, we realise that his cockiness is imagined. Say what you will about Di Caprio, but he gives 110% into every role he is given, making him one of the more exciting actors of our generation.
The Beach suffers from a slight lack of focus. It never quite settles. When the movie lands on the beach and we learn about this secret society, we expect things to slow down and expand. While the pace does allow us to get to know the various characters, the story is always moving. We could argue this is a good thing, but it lacks breathing space. Certain beats are under-cooked, like Richard finally getting what he wants from Francoise and Richard’s initial journey from camp member to lone wolf. The Beach tells a story, but never quite decides what kind of film it wants to be. This is a common symptom of ‘book adaptation syndrome’. Everyone who has watched this film admits that there is something off about it, yet they can never put their finger on it. Something stops this film from being a true break-out hit and this is the closest I can get to explaining it. The finale is also a little abrupt, although it does go down as one of the highlights of Leonardo Di Caprio’s career. The confrontation is brilliant and the tension is dialled right up. I had no idea how this movie would finish; it was so… so… so Danny Boyle.
And finally, what a soundtrack! All Saints, Faithless… the music always suited the moment. A small point to make, but one I want to make anyway.
Final Verdict: Grounded by a terrific performance from Di Caprio, this is one of the lesser known Boyle movies that deserves more praise than it gets.