Back to the Kim Newman Archive | Main EOFFTV page for this title

The Beach (2000)

After the slip of A Life Less Ordinary, the Shallow Grave-Trainspotting team of director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald here turn to another cultish modern novel, Alex Garland's The Beach, and turn out a movie that fits its landscape by being at once impressive and shallow, but with wild, incoherent fringes.

Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio), an aimless young American, is on a tour of South-East Asia and finds himself in the next hotel room to Daffy Duck (Robert Carlyle), a burned-out crackup who rants at him for a bit and commits suicide, leaving him a map to an island that has become a local legend, where there is reputedly a vast dope crop and a perfect beach unseeable from the sea. With a French couple, Francoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and Etienne (Guillaume Canet), he has hooked up with because he fancies the girl, he heads out, following the map, and swims to the island where, after avoiding the heavily-armed Thai marijuana farmers, the kids come across a community under the leadership of Sal (Tilda Swinton), who are living away from the corruption of civilisation but working up thier own stranger corruptions.

There's a soapy streak as Richard cops off with Virginie but is briefly the sex toy of Sal, setting up emotional currents that fracture the group, but it takes a couple of brushes with savage nature - Richard gets off lightly by killing a baby shark, only for another shark (unseen) to extract a horrific revenge on a couple of amiable Swedes which shockingly despoils the idyllic scenery with streaks of deep-red blood - reshape the nature of the community, which decrees that a moaning wounded man be carted into the jungle and left in a tent to rot. When more Yank tourists show up with a copy of the map Richard has left (which is a much-stressed but silly plot point - it's not his fault, but the dead Daffy's), Sal details him to see them off but in the jungle he goes into an Apocalypse Now fantasy and starts playing with the dangerous druggies. In the end, it all falls apart.

The film can't quite make up its mind: the beach party is either a utopia or a recreation of the worst of the civilisation it has tried to flee from; it also consists of too few actual characters and a lot of jokey walk-ons who go along like sheep with whatever they're told to do, and the whole set-up depends too much for comfort on raising and selling drugs. It looks fantastic and some scenes play well - Swinton is extraordinary, but DiCaprio never gets a hold on his character and comes off as a pouting prettyboy with nice shoulders and the whole movie could do with more of the attack delivered by Robert Carlyle in his tiny performance.

First published in this form here.

Visit Kim's Official Website at


E-mail us

All text on this page © Kim Newman