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The Beach   B

20th Century Fox

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: John Hodge (based on the novel by Alex Garland)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Tilda Swinton, Paterson Joseph, Robert Carlyle.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Obviously looking to upset the millions-strong fan base of 13-year-old girls that he acquired after starring in that movie about that big boat that sank (what was the title of that one?), Leo DiCaprio decided to tackle a dark role in an intense R-rated movie. He considered taking the title role in the upcoming American Psycho, but passed on that and settled on the lead in The Beach, based on Alex Garland's novel of the same name.

Leo plays Richard, an aimless traveler who encounters a headcase named Daffy (yes, as in Duck) while staying at a run-down hotel in Bangkok. Daffy (played with manic gusto by Robert Carlyle) tells Richard of a mythical island somewhere near Thailand that is supposedly paradise on earth. The next day, Daffy is found dead in his room -- suicide, they say, but I have my doubts -- but he has left Richard a map to the island.

Richard has had his eye on the beautiful French girl (Virginie Ledoyen) in the room next door, but it's a bummer that she already has a boyfriend (Guillaume Canet). Richard takes a chance and asks them both if they'd like to come along in search of the island, just the three of them. They agree, and so their adventure begins.

The first 30 or 40 minutes of The Beach are wonderful. When Daffy tells Richard about "the beach," you're whisked away to that place in your imagination that wishes that such a place existed -- and wishes that you could find it. The journey to the island is probably the best part of the film. There's the promise of romance and adventure, yet menace is definitely in the air. There's a scene right after they get to the island that is almost unbearably suspenseful and exciting. It involves Leo and his two friends being stalked through a cannabis field by guys with machine guns. Director Danny Boyle stages the scene with breathtaking skill, and the camerawork pulls you right into the scene -- you're almost as terrified as Leo. It feels like it's going to be a great movie.

But once Richard and crew make it to the center of the island, "the beach," things slow down. Turns out there's a civilization of about 30 people already living in this paradise, and they settle in with them. All is good and well for everyone, and even the love triangle that wants to develop between Richard, Francoise (the French girl), and her boyfriend Etienne is suddenly discarded when she decides she wants to be with Richard. Her now ex-boyfriend simply wants her to be happy, and that's the end of the conflict right there. What bullshit. But that doesn't matter anyway because the romance that starts to develop between Richard and Francoise is completely trashed a bit later.

One thing I really admired about The Beach is that Richard is not a great guy. He's a morally flawed, lying, cheating, selfish asshole -- and thus, utterly and believably human. Richard's descent into madness in the third act doesn't quite work because it comes right out of left field, but DeCaprio's performance is electrifying.

Despite some of its steps in the wrong direction, The Beach has some very effective scenes scattered throughout. There's the horrifying aftermath of a shark attack, a heart-pounding massacre in the cannabis field, and the climax does pack quite a punch. Parts of the movie are so great -- particularly the first 40 minutes -- that I wish the rest of the movie lived up to its potential. It's a flawed but intriguing film that will have you thinking long after the credits roll.

Is paradise worth protecting if takes away your soul?

Review published 02.18.2000.

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