The Beach

on February 11, 2000 by Wade Major
   Anyone familiar with the so-called "bag of money" trilogy ("Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting" and "A Life Less Ordinary") should not be too surprised that the filmmaking trio behind those films--producer Peter Macdonald, screenwriter John Hodge and director Danny Boyle--would choose Alex Garland's novel "The Beach" for their next project. An exotic adventure-thriller set on a remote island off the coast of Thailand, "The Beach" trades on many of the same heady themes and concerns as their previous efforts--individual mistrust of the collective, the illusion of happiness, the elusiveness of love, anti-establishment moral relativism and the psychologically destabilizing effects of isolation, to name only a few. None of which will ultimately much matter to the armies of adolescent girls clamoring to sneak past the ratings Nazis for a glimpse of their beloved Leo. What will matter to them is that Leo's new movie really isn't very good.
   DiCaprio stars as Richard, one of the countless Western youths who descend on Bangkok each year--thrill-seekers lured as much by the city's decadence as by its exoticism. Needless to say, Richard's thirst for excitement is soon satisfied. A brief encounter with a deranged Scotsman by the apt name of Daffy (Robert Carlyle) leaves him in possession of a map, allegedly indicating the location of an island paradise where non-indigenous humans and indigenous dope live in hazy harmony. Intrigued, Richard solicits a young French couple named Etienne and Francoise (Guillaume Canet and Virginie Ledoyen) to join him and the trio are soon off on a whirlwind, 24-hour excursion to what turns out to be a catastrophe waiting to happen; half of the island is a vast marijuana farm guarded by gun-toting guerillas, while the other half is home to a sort of sea-level Shangri-La for émigré bohemians. Claims of "peaceful coexistence" notwithstanding, it's clearly not a recipe for utopia.
   From this point forward, "The Beach" plays more or less like a standard-issue Eden allegory, introducing romance and then death into paradise before strife, mistrust and betrayal force the erstwhile dreamers back to the real world. If not for DiCaprio's undeniable charisma and Boyle's commanding sense of style, this would be deathly tedious terrain, fodder for all manner of "Gilligan's Island" jokes and other indignities.
   As it stands, the film is competent enough to be bearable, but not enough to hammer home any points of interest. Supporting performers lend only cosmetic support to the exercise, with Canet and the comely Ledoyen both adequately engaging and "Orlando" star Tilda Swinton convincingly weighty as the communal leader Sal. Carlyle's brief but captivatingly camp cameo, however, is a notable standout. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Tilda Swinton and Robert Carlyle. Directed by Danny Boyle. Written by John Hodge. Produced by Andrew Macdonald. A Fox release. Adventure/Thriller. Rated R for violence, some strong sexuality, language and drug content. Running time: 119 min
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