The Beach Reviews
Watched this on 27/5/16
Clearly one of the most underrated movies I have ever seen. This is one of the finest films from Boyle and far better than many of his acclaimed ones. I expected silly teenage stuff from The Beach and I was taken aback by the power of story telling. DiCaprio gives an underaprreciated performance in this film which is about a descent into madness, the existence of a beautiful paradise and the effects it would have on its inhabitants. The film's themes of selfishness, self-indulgence and excessive struggle to keep the secrecy of the paradise are too strong and this film like its novel is similar to Lord of the Flies. I find the themes better executed than in films such as Apocalypse Now.
But The Beach is a really exciting movie with really cool cinematography and good suspence and thrills.
From the instant the film begins, The Beach progresses at a fast pace. It aimlessly moves through a lot of beautiful scenery while it loosely puts together some kind of a story which has elements of adventure, drama and psychological thrills, yet it never settles on any. There is a constant tonal inconsistency in The Beach because the story keeps on changing path in the most ridiculous of fashions. The story itself isn't confusing, but why somebody saw fit to write something this ridiculous most certainly is. There is consistently a sense of mystery in the air of The Beach that leaves a premise of unpredictability, and this certainly manages to give the film a level of intrigue to keep viewers watching. But the more the film wades through all kinds of genres and unexpected plot points, the more senseless it becomes.
The Beach is a film clearly limited by its media form. Many have told me that the source novel to The Beach is an engaging piece, but I have never had a chance to read it. The complex feeling of being on a secluded beach island would be far clearer in a first-person form available by means of a written text, so it is instead left to the visual experience. Admittedly Danny Boyle does have a stylish flair for crafting atmosphere, but in terms of creating a promising narrative, his role in The Beach proves far from structurally sound.
At first, The Beach feels like an old-fashioned adventure film. Since the premise depicts a young American journeying to Bangkok and later finding himself on an adventure to a mysterious island, and the scenery provides a beautiful front for all this. There is a lot of imagery to appreciate in The Beach due to on-location scenery, as well as the cinematography. Thanks to the work of Darius Khondji, The Beach is an appropriately large-scale spectacle of tropical life at some moments and a claustrophobic thriller at others thanks to his tenacious technique. So there are certainly capabilities that The Beach captures as a film it cannot as a novel. However, Danny Boyle's skill with style can only keep viewers distracted for so long before they realize that the story is taking an incoherent path one minute or a generic one the next. By the end of the film, The Beach ends at an abrupt conclusion where everything goes back to normal for the protagonist and many of the other characters although we are left with the idea that the horror he has experienced have left him shocked forever. To end such a twisted and unpredictable story on a note this mind-numbing and predictable is such a cop out, but it also matches the mediocre standards of the rest of the film. Reflecting on the film and attempting to decipher precisely what I had watched, I hardly felt like there was much of an actual path within the narrative because every time the genre or setting changed it just became disjointed. Frankly, The Beach is a film which requires viewers not to think deeply about it if they hope to enjoy the experience.
The one-non visual trait that The Beach gains momentum from the is the power of its music. There are times that the musical score in The Beach almost alludes to some of the tracks from the cult classic television series Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Having later found out that they both shared a composer in Angelo Badalamenti, The Beach just proves that the man has lost none of his signature style. Though John Cale and Brian Eno also make contributions, the work of Angelo Badelamenti remains a reminder of his extensive talents.
However, the same cannot be said about the lead actor of The Beach as Leonardo DiCaprio is far from his finest. In one of his first major post-Titanic (1997) appearances, The Beach seems to be focused on using the least of the man's skills to appeal too his "Leo-mania" fanbase. Most of the film consists of random moments where he freaks out and screams arbitrary noises or shouts lines as strange as "That is just... an ASSHOLE, suggestion!". These scenes are far from strong enough to boost any credibility, but then again The Beach hardly seems very interested in that in the first place. The most memorable thing about Leonardo Dicaprio's performance in The Beach is the fact that he spends the majority of the time with his shirt off, in particular one scene where the viewer witnesses his torso in full perspective as he ties a bandana around his head to pretend he is John Rambo. Leonardo DiCaprio is a treat for the eyes in The Beach but nothing else since there is nothing intellectually stimulating about his performance, and any viewer who has seen the limits he succumbs to in The Beach may understand why he hasn't ever actually an Academy Award.
Tilda Swinton is a loosely memorable member of the cast in The Beach simply as she has a name of greater recognition, but her performance is not one which stands up with her legacy. Unable to pick the extent of antagonism she wants to put into her character, Tilda Swinton hints at being a villainous character at many points in The Beach but is never able to establish how much she wants to intimidate viewers. She works alongside the developing atmosphere of the film, but since she develops her character at the same pace as the constantly shifting narrative it certainly isn't the most entertaining achievement. Tilda Swinton captures a character as loose as the story, so the resulting quality is hard to decipher.
The Beach provides Danny Boyle a chance to remind viewers of his rich sense of style and atmosphere as a director, but his inability to keep the story from flailing along a loose path creates a film bereft of comprehension, commentary or even a decent performance from Leonardo DiCaprio.
The movie then takes inspiration from other literary works such as Lord of the Flies, and shows how paradise can never remain for any extended duration due to social issues, and human nature.
Aside from the story, which is actually well written (I mean, it's Garland, the guy is solid) the film itself has its faults. Strangely enough, The Beach earned an R rating, but the book itself features much more intense and visceral sequences which were omitted in what I'm assuming was an attempt to avoid an NC-17 rating. The story also doesn't translate from page to screen as well as one might expect, leaving the plot to be meandering and unfocused. On top of this, they shoehorned in a love interest for Leo, which the main character in the book is adamant about not pursuing, changing the character drastically, and overall cheapening and hollywoodizing a good chunk of the plot.
But not all is lost. I consider the film to be one of the last true 90s movies, even though its release was in early 2000. 90s cinema was a bit of a unique thing, filled with trance music soundtracks from the likes of Orbital, Prodigy, Faithless and other rave scene musicians. The films also have a gritty attitude to hedonism, that is much more embraced in today's cinematic landscape. The film manages to capture this fleeting period in time, and give us a very realistic peek into what it felt like to be a disillusioned 90s backpacker trying to find their slice of heaven on earth.
The Beach also manages to instill a real sense of camaraderie, and make the commune on the island seem very familiar, and like a literal Garden of Eden just a couple hours from the prostitute lined dingy streets of Bangkok. The cinematography, is very by the numbers, but it gets the job done. The soundtrack is fantastic, but a film doesn't live or die by a soundtrack necessarily. Acting wise, it's nothing spectacular, and actually managed to earn Dicaprio a Razzie nomination.
TL;DR - 7/10
All things considered, the film is certainly flawed and has earned it numerous bad reviews. Nevertheless, I consider it to have a certain charm, which is drawn along by some fantastically beautiful locations, soundtrack, and Garland's storyline. It's worth watching once and has some interesting themes, but at the end of the day the film remains very, very average.
The Beach can't provide deep storytelling, but the visuals and unintentional humor make up for that.