After waiting for almost a year to follow-up his Titanic success, Leonardo DiCaprio picked The Beach, a skillfully photographed film version of Alex Garland’s popular 1996 novel about searching for paradise. “I wanted my next film to be something I felt strongly about, and The Beach and the character of Richard were the first things I felt some kind of connection with,” DiCaprio said. According to the popular heartthrob, the character he plays in The Beach has been saturated with digital information. “He’s never had any need to feel real emotion. So he sets off on a journey to Thailand to find something real in life. But Richard discovers that paradise is something you can find only within yourself. It’s not like some far-off idyllic place.”
Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) believed DiCaprio made a perfect Richard --- even if he isn’t British as portrayed in Garland’s book. “Leo is an amazing actor, fresh, original, and bursting with ideas,” Boyle declared. “His taste, though he would vehemently deny this, is quite European, so the idea of playing an extremely flawed hero appealed to him.”
But just how appealing was this new DiCaprio character to his adoring fans? Remember, they couldn’t get enough of him as the romantic hero who died saving his true love in Titanic. (The high school girls in my own family saw that blockbuster at least thirteen times!) There’s not much to swoon about in the young actor’s performance here, and some of DiCaprio’s followers expressed disappointment with his portrayal of such an unsympathetic lead.
The best part of The Beach is the way it looks. Darius Khondi’s (Evita) mesmerizing cinematography dazzled me. Thanks to Khondji’s artistic eye, much of the first part of the film looks bright and beautiful, and the last half appears as dark and foreboding as those disturbing events that change the secret paradise into a hellish nightmare.
Also on the plus side, two French actors make impressive American debuts in this film. Virginie Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet play Franciose and Etienne, Richard’s companions on his journey. The camera loves them almost as much as DiCaprio. In addition, Tilda Swinton (The War Zone) excels as the unofficial leader of the island, and Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) stands out in early scenes as a crazed traveler who tells Richard about the island .
Unfortunately, The Beach offers no movie paradise for viewers. By attempting to combine elements of mystery, adventure, action, and romance, the film becomes too jumbled to follow with in-depth interest.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated “R” for violence, strong language, sexuality, and drug content.)