July 1, 2014

The Beach


Danny Boyle, 2000
Boyle is a great film-maker with a lot of memorable titles under his belt. His early career consist of some dramatic gems in Shallow Grave and Trainspotting (possibly his best work). His later career would evolve into a more ambitious stylistic approach with films like Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and 28 Days Later. But before he made those also great films, he performed experiments and tested the waters with his film-making like he did with The Beach. Adapted from the novel written by Alex Garland, the film consists of main character Richard (DiCaprio) venturing to Thailand looking for unique adventure. While staying at a hostel one night, he begins talking to crazed-neighbor Daffy (played by Doyle favorite Robert Carlyle) who tells him about a paradise-like island that is hidden from the sea. Richard discounts the island as a myth until he finds a map on his door the next day, and Daffy gone. Richard decides to travel to the island to see if the legend is true. He soon finds that not only is the legend very much true, but there is much more to this island than anyone would expect.

Boyle's experiments with the film for the most part fail because he wastes valuable time on them. Time that would be better spent developing the already confusing characters was spent on visual trickery and recklessly abstract narrative. The film also feels experimental for a young Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio had previously starred in films like What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries that showed that he certainly had talent but it needed some refinement and evolution. When we are introduced to DiCaprio, its through an odd narrative where Richard comes off as a bit abrasive. He lives up to that same personality soon after when he meets the young girl staying next to him and he is mildly aggressive with her boyfriend. You would think a young traveler would have a more benign, welcoming demeanor. This aggression is elevated soon after when they are aruging on top of the rock ledge, where things seemed a bit over-dramatized and over-aggressive. His behavior continues to be self-serving, and you never really feel obligated to get behind him as a protagonist. The swerving that sloppily navigates the film through the first two thirds of the film eventually leads to the Richard isolation jungle scenes in the third where it just crashes completely. Boyle's Beach experiment fails because it doesn't focus enough on pure performances and story and instead relies on overindulgence and reckless reverie.

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