Leonardo DiCaprio sought to distance himself from the cloying wholesomeness of his character in Titanic
, and his role in The Beach
is in many ways a polar opposite. As Richard, a young American seeking to "suck in the experience" of freestyle travel in Thailand, he is a chronic liar, a pot-smoking hedonist, an amoral lover and ultimately an unstable snake in a doomed Garden of Eden. This crazy descent might be expected from the filmmakers of Trainspotting
, but The Beach
is a movie without a rudder, venturing into fascinating territory, promising a stimulating adventure and then careening out of control.
After receiving a not-so-secret map to a secluded island from a stoned-out loony (Robert Carlyle, full of dark portent and spittle), Richard sets out to find the hidden paradise with a young French couple (Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet). What they find is a tropical commune existing in delicate balance with Thai pot farmers, and before long--as always--there is trouble in paradise. There is trouble in the movie, too, as DiCaprio is reduced to histrionics when the plot turns into a muddled mix of Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now, with shark attacks tossed in for shallow tension. Director Danny Boyle attempts perfunctory romance and a few audacious moves (notably DiCaprio's vision of life as a violent video game), but what's the point? Tilda Swinton registers strongly as the commune's charismatic leader, but her character--and the entire film--remains largely undeveloped, and pretty scenery is no guarantee of a laudable film. --Jeff Shannon