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From the March 2000
Film Review

Film Review Hotline
4 Stars
Vamos a la playa: Leo DiCaprio and Virginie Ledoyen
The cost of Paradise
STARS: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Robert Carlyle, Paterson Joseph
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle
CERTIFICATE: 15DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: 20th Century Fox
RUNNING TIME: 1hr 50mins
OPENING DATE (UK): February 11

Few films are afforded such negative publicity during production. But, in the wake of the phenomenal success of Titanic, all eyes were locked on DiCaprio. And the prognosis was not good. After turning down a slew of mouth-watering offers (notably American Psycho), the cherubic 24-year-old settled on The Beach, a mainly British production adapted from the novel by Alex Garland and produced by the team that brought us Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary.

First of all, Ewan McGregor – disappointed that he was passed over for the lead – grumbled that, in the interests of commercialism, the central character had been changed from a Brit to a Yank. Then came the environmental horror stories. Apparently, the production had transformed a Thai paradise into a self-serving film set, uprooting rare grasses, bulldozing sand dunes and planting no less than 60 palm trees. However, according to producer Andrew Macdonald, he not only paid Thailand’s Forestry Commission £66,000 for permission to shoot there, but three tons of rubbish was removed from the site and, at considerable cost, the beach was returned to its former glory.

In the interests of the story, the idyllic setting had to be just right. For The Beach is a powerful polemic on the precarious politics of paradise. Dissatisfied with the numbing mediocrity of his life, Richard (DiCaprio), a young American backpacker, goes in search of new experience. Arriving in Bangkok, he turns his back on the comforts of home in favour of a run-down hostel and an opportunity to sample such local delicacies as snake’s blood.

Then, during a surreal encounter with a drug-addled Scotsman (Carlyle), he learns of a secret paradise hidden by vertiginous cliffs and geographic isolation. Accompanied by a young French couple, our hero finds his island and, in turn, his true vocation – the pure pursuit of pleasure. Of course, this being a Danny Boyle film, Richard’s nirvana is not all that he had hoped it would be. But then the very nature of Utopia is a figment of the imagination, is it not?

Boasting superlative production values and a terrific script by John Hodge, The Beach is a gripping contemplation of the nature of our world and ourselves – and how we view both. DiCaprio himself, already looking older than he did in Titanic (and appearing more handsome than pretty), invests the part of Richard with gusto and is well supported by a largely unknown cast. And Angelo Badalamenti’s evocative, electronic score is another major plus.

James Cameron-Wilson

Read our massive reviews section in this month's Film Review
Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

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Also reviewed online this month:
5 Stars
TOY STORY 2 • released February 11


5 Stars
The Talented Mr Ripley • Feb 25
Topsy Turvy • Feb 18
Hang the DJ • Jan 14
Rear Window • Feb 4
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The Cider House Rules • Feb 11
End of the Affair • Feb 4
Man on the Moon • Feb 18
Open Your Eyes

(Abre Los Ojos)Feb 25
Rien sur Robert

(Nothing to do with Robert)Feb 25
Rosetta • Feb 25