The Beach stands as a turning point in Danny Boyle’s career. It is the first big budget film that he directed and it is the one with more controversy and problems on set than any other. The first problem was the fall-out between Boyle and perennial first-choice actor of his, Ewan McGregor. Reports suggested that the production company offered Boyle more budget if he replaced his lead with Leonardo DiCaprio. Then there was an outcry when Boyle bulldozered the beach at Ko Phi Phi Lee to make it seem more like a paradise. Overall there were reports that the film was poorly made and an absolute shambles. Were it not for DiCaprio’s involvement it would’ve likely tanked at the box office too.
Richard (DiCaprio) is a typical American travelling through Asia. He is cocky, confident and willing to try new things in an attempt to differentiate himself from his fellow countryman travellers. Whilst in Thailand, he meets enigmatic lunatic Daffy (Robert Carlyle) and is given the location of a secret beach that holds a group of open-minded people living in a counter-community. Together with Françoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and Étienne (Guillaume Canet) he travels to the island containing the beach and falls under the influence of community leader Sal (Tilda Swinton).
The action plays out like Lord of the Flies, with each member of the society bringing their own personal demons to the island community, and this is where the cracks begin to show in their idyllic paradise home. The cast are all strong, and the decision to replace McGregor with DiCaprio seems to have an excellent if inadvertent one, with the American being perfect as the half-annoying, half-intriguing protagonist.
The first half of the film is classic Boyle, with wonderfully gritty shots of Thailand and the real appreciation of the trials of being a traveller abroad. The sweeping vistas of beachfronts and coastal storms are beautiful and the camera isn’t afraid of zooming to the edge of the atmosphere to give the audience a real sense of place. The soundtrack as always in Boyle films suits the subject matter perfectly and you’ll be humming Pure Shores by All Saints for days after seeing it.
The problem comes with the inevitable collapse of Richard’s life on the beach, and his constant references to the fate that would befall his life. It’s rare that a film would so overtly tell you that bad things were going to happen and the plot becomes messy and convoluted about halfway through, a problem that really sours the beauty of the first half. This is Boyle trying something new, which should be applauded and he would use the negative experience from The Beach to make Slumdog Millionaire, so it has important part to play in his career, even if the film is disappointing.