Film Review: The Beach (2000)

“We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?”

I have great affection for both the book and the film of The Beach. On my year abroad, Alex Garland’s novel was reverently passed between my group of friends as we all tumbled for its charms and then as the film was released with perfect timing, we were able to dissect exactly how it was different from the book and what had been lost in translation over endless nights of drunken debate. The collective decision that it just wasn’t as good means I’d never quite gotten round to ever watching the film again and with a little distance, I have to say I didn’t think it was that bad and that soundtrack, boy it took me back to Forskarbacken 7!

Making the film a Leonardo DiCaprio star vehicle as Danny Boyle did (or as originally planned lead Ewan McGregor would have us believe, was forced to do) clearly had an impact on the direction John Hodge’s screenplay took. Much of the book’s self-aware intelligence, as a twenty-something traveller ventures through Thailand in search of a good time and then ultimately a self-contained community in a secluded paradise, is sacrificed for straight-forward thrill-seeking which ends up telling a less rich story. Making the lead American rather than British may have had something to do with this, who knows…

A fresh-faced DiCaprio is actually half decent as Richard, ambling around Bangkok until he meets crazed Daffy (Robert Carlyle in a memorable cameo) who tells him of a secret island which he then decides to try and find along with his new French friends Françoise and Étienne (Virginie Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet). Once they find it, infinite bliss seems theirs but as ever, trouble in paradise is brewing matters of love and sex threaten the harmonious existence of the group and the inability of people to keep a secret becomes a real problem where the large marijuana farm on the island is concerned. Oh, and there’s a shark.

It’s all rather entertainingly put together, beautifully shot in the gorgeous Thai locations (even if they damaged them in doing so, as is asserted by many) and inventive in the way it incorporates Richard’s video game obsession. It’s enjoyable to see Tilda Swinton as the fearsome community leader Sal and Paterson Joseph adds quality as cricket fan Keaty, another key member of the group. Not a match to the book and no more than undemanding fun to be sure, but there are far worse worse films out there.

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