A far cry from how in touch Danny Boyle was with the zeitgeist with Trainspotting, here we have superficial comments on gaming, a poor soundtrack and vague attempts at depicting the unique attitude of the backpacking. Then, when the film takes a darker turn it becomes a muddled version of Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness, never achieving more than a constant reminder of the films that this one so badly wants to be. There is room for some fantastic social critique through satire, and the film sets these opportunities up but just then forgets about them and moves on to some other half developed idea.
There are some good performances here; Leonardo DiCaprio does his best given the film’s shallow flirtations with different narratives and ideas. He cannot lock into one story to explore before it morphs into something else and so I cut him a fair bit of slack here. Tilda Swinton as ever gives a great, if slightly restrained, performance and again I put that down to the script’s limitations. However Robert Carlyle goes above and beyond what the film gives him; providing a genuinely memorable take on the crazed and somewhat dangerous Daffy. Everyone else involved is neither bad nor particularly good, they just fade into the film and are quite easily forgotten.
The frustrating thing about The Beach is that all of the different storylines that it takes an interest in seem promising, and I would actually really like to see the three or four movies that this one could have been. The movie doesn’t seem to mind that it is being indecisive. It wastes a lot of time with beautiful shots and meaningless scenes that at first appear promising but which never lead anywhere. By all means show off how beautiful the landscapes you are working in are, but please make sure that there is some sort of genuine plot attached to these shots. The scenery is actually worked into a pointless sex scene too. That scene purely exists for two reasons; because they wanted a sex scene that looked different and interesting, and because… you know… sex has to be in the movies, right? They never stopped to check whether the scene actually mattered to the characters, the plot or the audience.
The Beach‘s attempts at analysing humanity in isolated and horrific conditions feel rushed, forced and rarely anything but unconvincing. If you are interested in seeing this kind of movie but want to see something other than your Apocalypse Now‘s and Lord of the Flies‘ then I recommend taking a look at The Mosquito Coast. It too has serious star power with Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren and River Phoenix in lead roles but its look at humanity pushed to the edge is much more interesting and developed. In all honesty The Beach is best seen as a curiosity piece only.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Robert Carlyle’s great performance.
Its greatest weakness? The plot just isn’t strong enough, it falters when it should shine.
Would I see it again? Maybe… I’m not all too bothered if I’m completely honest.
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