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Don't go onto this "Beach"
on October 24, 2002
"The Beach" boldly goes where plenty of movies have gone before, into the idea that there is no real paradise and that human beings can be hideously cruel. (That's probably the message -- it all became so jumbled that it's impossible to tell the filmmakers' intent) It almost makes our shallow, materalistic culture look appealing, and I'm pretty sure that wasn't the intent.
Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a spoiled American teenager looking for a vague "something different," and to find it he has to go to Bangkok. In his grubby motel room, he encounters a pair of French tourists, Etienne (Guillaume Canet) and Françoise (Virginie Ledoyen), and a weird suicidal guy, Daffy (Robert Carlyle) who gives Richard a map to a paradise on a nearby island. Richard leads his French friends to the island, but not before leaving a copy of the map for a pair of stoner buddies.
The three swim to the island, and narrowly avoid being spitted by marijuana farmers. Soon they encounter an idyllic group of former tourists, now settled down to a life of peace, love, and pot. But soon Richard has found that there is a dark underbelly to the beautiful civilization -- and he succumbs to that darkness...
If "Beach" had been played for light laughs, it would have worked. The funny moments are what saves the movie from utter mediocrity. But instead "Beach" insists on slipping into a painfully cliched path, and though DiCaprio does seem to be trying to salvage his character (if Richard can be called a character) the movie is too flimsy to support the weight of its intended message.
It would help if Richard weren't such a pain. He's spoiled, self-absorbed, willing to sleep with any willing female, antagonistic and amoral -- and that's before he comes to the island. We don't really care about Richard's descent into darkness and madness, because we're given no reason to like this cheating, self-absorbed brat. Worse yet, we're supposed to sympathize with his disgust over American culturre, yet the messy streets look far better than paradise. Guillaume Canet's Etienne will get more sympathy -- he seems to retain his ethics, while losing his girlfriend to Richard (in a very weird underwater love scene) Virginie Ledoyen is quite convincing, but is sadly given little to do except smolder at Richard and then smack him in the head. Tilda Swinton is convincing but unsympathetic as Sal, the cold leader of the group who blackmails Richard into sleeping with her.
The humorous moments work best: The Swedish fishermen introducing themselves to the camera, the germ-obsessed cook ("Still I smell fish!"), Richard doing an electrocution impression, the various islanders making their shopping requests, and a perky English villager obsessing on cricket. But at the same time, there are endless shots of Richard glowering at the camera, and one bizarre sequence that shows DiCaprio as a video game character. (Strangely enough, these scenes of psychosis are where DiCaprio is his best) The main upside of these is the beautiful beach and ocean, as well as the outstanding sky shots.
It's "Lord of the Flies" meets "Titanic," with some fairly explicit sex scenes and some really disgusting shots of shark bites. Only a die-hard DiCaprio-ite will want to see this mess. Or anybody who has ever wanted to see him eat a caterpillar and get groin-pinched.