The Beach


Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by:John Hodge
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Paterson Joseph, Robert Carlyle
Released: March 9, 2000
Grade: B-

It’s a question often asked - is it harder to write a screenplay from scratch or one based on a novel?  The answer is the later.  When you write an original script you have freedom to create anything you want.  When adapting, you face expectations from those who have already read the book and the challenge of editing 300 or so pages into just 2 hours.  It’s like taking a university assignment that you’ve perfected to 5000 words and then told you have to tell it in 500 words.  Plenty of good material is going to have to be cut, but you have to make sure the stuff you keep in is (a) worth it, and (b) not losing the essence of the story.

The Beach is the first novel from author Alex Garland and has become a sort of “backpacker’s bible”.  Its central character, Richard, travels to Thailand looking for adventure and is left a map with directions to a mystery island where paradise is promised.  With two French friends (Etienne and Francoise), they swim to the island and find a community of people from all over the world who have set up their own village.  They do everything themselves and it seems the rest of the world is a far distant reality...

Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) captures the beauty of the island and the craziness of Thailand well - the contrast is clear.  He uses the jungle surroundings well and creates some really great scenes.  Two worth noting are the scene where Richard tells the story of his capture of a small shark and a scene where Richard runs through the jungle “computer-game style” (although he’s said that DiCaprio was the inspiration behind that idea).

Speaking of Leonardo DiCaprio, his performance is marvellous.  He just has that ability to so accurately express his inner feelings through this exterior.  You can tell what he’s thinking and see his character evolving.  The rest of the cast are left underdeveloped but Tilda Swinton (as Sal) was well played.

What does let The Beach down is the screenplay.  It sort of plays like a checklist of the book’s leading events and never develops anything closely.  Changes were made to the movie (such as Richard’s sexual liaison with Francoise) that were understandable as they try to help keep the movie interesting for today’s audience but just when something looked like it might become worthy, it leads to a dead end (such as the plight of the injured Swede).

John Hodge needed to be more stringent with the screenplay and at the expense of certain events, should have expanded on some of the others.  By the film’s weak (and very short) finale, you feel underwhelmed and the whole point of the movie is lost.  It’s the case of a movie with a lot of potential that doesn’t use it.

Anticipated as one of the big hits of the new year, The Beach has floundered at the box-office and the reasons can be seen.  Conservative studio executives think they know what the public likes when they couldn’t be further from the truth.  It’s all too rosy and perfect in attempts to cash in on the Leonardo DiCaprio fan club.  As good as he is, DiCaprio should stick to more solid material and his role in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film, Gangs Of New York, should be just the ticket.