Richard (DiCaprio) acts on the word of a crazed traveller (Carlyle) and goes to seek out paradise in Thailand. What he finds is a society cut off from civilisation, which at first seems idyllic, but the stong characters and various weaknesses in the group bring about its own destruction.
Getting away with it all on an unspoilt tropical beach is not the idyll of your lottery winning dreams in this unnerving drama of a hidden Eden where obsessive travellers disassociate from the world.
DiCaprio is backpacker Richard, who thinks he's worldly-wise, but is so "the young American abroad" when he seeks adventure and danger in Thailand. A strange encounter with crazed Daffy (Robert Carlyle), who rants of a perfect, secret beach, seems the travel tip for him. And he recruits a French girl he fancies rotten (Ledoyen) and her amiable boyfriend (Guillaume Canet) to join him on a mysterious, funny, scary journey to the spectacularly beautiful (take a bow, cinematographer Darius Khondji) haven.
There Sal (Swinton) holds sway over a community of drop-outs who are kind of a cross between the Swiss Family Robinson and an apocalyptic water sport cult. Like Garland's novel, the film will be compared with Lord Of The Flies as the absence of societal constraints and concerns creates a moral vacuum for wild things to rumpus mightily. The Beach is more a microcosm of the modern world, though, with a more experienced gang and their alternative attempts to connect with one another riven by their secrets, desires, jealousies and competitiveness. They import their own serpents into this paradise.
Richard is more than a little disturbed, as we learn from a voiceover that borders on intrusive but underlines his alienation. His fixation with 'Nam movies could be spelled out more clearly to explain his solitary stint in the jungle turning into a pathological commando game, Heart Of Darkness for the Sega generation.
DiCaprio's perfect as the smartarsed thrill-seeker and the more wry narrator with hindsight, but he works very hard for his reputed $20 million fee when required to turn into a bug-eating nutter. Despite the dodginess of this interlude, however, Boyle's direction holds a true line between allure and horror, and Hodge's script is intriguing and forceful. It's much better than rumoured: entertaining, engrossing, and ripe for discussion - somewhere civilised - afterwards.
It's much better than rumoured: entertaining, engrossing, and ripe for discussion - somewhere civilised - afterwards.