The Beach

USA/UK 2000

Reviewed by Xan Brooks


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Richard, an American backpacker in Thailand, alights at a fleapit Bangkok hotel where he meets Daffy, a drug-addled Scotsman. Daffy gives Richard a map to an Edenic island and then kills himself. Richard and a French couple, Françoise and Etienne, set off to find the island. En route, Richard leaves a copy of the map with two fellow-Americans, Zeph and Sammy. Richard, Françoise and Etienne swim to the island, navigate an illegal marijuana plantation policed by armed guards and discover an idyllic stretch of beach inhabited by a commune of western travellers.

The three visitors are inducted into the commune. Later, Françoise dumps Etienne for Richard. On a supply-buying trip with the commune's leader Sal, Richard learns Zeph and Sammy are coming to the island. Sal blackmails Richard into having sex with her. Back on the island, one backpacker is killed by a shark, and another, Christo, fatally injured in the attack. Richard is posted to the jungle to watch out for the arrival of Zeph and Sammy. Rejected by Françoise and ostracised from the group, he spies on the plantation guards and is visited by the ghost of Daffy. Zeph and Sammy arrive with two German girls in tow; all four are shot dead by the guards. The guards raid the commune; Sal must either kill Richard or everyone must leave. The gun they give her turns out to have no bullets. Everyone but Sal leaves the island.


"My name is Richard. So what else do you need to know?" runs The Beach's opening voiceover. It's like Moby Dick's opening "Call me Ismael" gambit farmed through Trainspotting's blasted "Choose life" mantra, and effectively sets the film's tone from the start. In adapting Alex Garland's best-selling novel, the film-making troika of director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge look to be going back to basics. Stung by the poor critical and commercial response to their magic-realist folly A Life Less Ordinary, the team appear to be beating a retreat to the misanthropic, twentysomething kicks peddled by the likes of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Strange to report, then, that The Beach winds up an oddly wayward and uncertain effort, its tailor-made ingredients only fitfully hanging together.

On the face of it, Garland's source novel is ideally suited to the cinema. First published in 1994, The Beach boasted a roster of young, western characters, a glamorous foreign backdrop, a zeitgeisty flavour (tapping into the 90s rise in eco-tourism) and a high-concept narrative. Its young author has admitted to feeling more affinity with comic books than traditional literature (his father is Daily Telegraph cartoonist Nicholas Garland). Accordingly, Garland writes the sort of zesty, dialogue-driven prose that converts easily into a screenplay format.

But in the event, the film version of The Beach has been plagued by problems. First, its original star choice Ewan McGregor was dropped in favour of the more bankable Leonardo DiCaprio. Later, the production itself was disrupted by protests that the film-makers had damaged their location. Moreover, the makers have tweaked the original storyline, shoe-horning in two romantic encounters for the previously celibate Richard (reportedly on the direct orders of DiCaprio) and downplaying the book's communal spirit in favour of a loving focus on its hero. So rising French actress Virginie Ledoyen makes do with a pallid support slot as Richard's love interest, while a steely, tranquil Tilda Swinton struggles to make an impact as the demagogic Sal. Most disconcerting of all is the sight of Robert Carlyle reduced to bug-eyed histrionics in a shamefully underwritten role as the spectral Daffy. In this way, DiCaprio spreads his towel all over The Beach. It's a classic example of Hollywood muscle run riot.

It says a lot for the inherent momentum of Garland's story that The Beach maintains its trajectory well into the second half. The set-up is efficiently handled, the trip to the island tightly plotted and the multi-cultural commune sketched out with a minimum of fuss. However, when The Beach should be gearing up for a grand finale, instead it nosedives into weary hallucinogenics. With Richard exiled to the jungle and cracking up fast, Boyle substitutes empty pyrotechnics for stringent psychological examination. His direction cannibalises Apocalypse Now's mix of hard light with deep shadow, while a flashy arcade-game interlude (in which a digitised DiCaprio zaps tigers as he runs through the jungle) is a show-off flourish which hints, perhaps, at an underlying desperation.

These moments reveal The Beach's true colours. Compare it to Trainspotting and the difference is striking. Trainspotting was a low-budget, organic product - properly cinematic yet generally faithful to the spirit of its source novel. It was, significantly, a film that broke out from its indie niche to find a mainstream audience. By contrast, The Beach seems to have sold its soul too early. In pitching for the mass market, Boyle's film has allowed itself to be rebranded as a Hollywood star vehicle, a cynical assemblage that is never more than the sum of its market-researched parts. The Beach is set on a tropical beach. It has killer sharks in it. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio. So what else do you need to know?


Danny Boyle
Andrew Macdonald
John Hodge
Based on the book by
Alex Garland
Director of Photography
Darius Khondji
Masahiro Hirakubo
Production Designer
Andrew McAlpine
Angelo Badalamenti
©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Production Companies
Twentieth Century Fox presents a Figment film
Callum McDougall
Production Supervisor
Santa Pestonji
Production Co-ordinator
Judy Britten
Production Services in Thailand
Santa International Film Production Co Ltd
Production Manager
Piya Pestonji
Unit Production Manager
Jo Burn
Location Managers
Phillip Roope
Somchai Santitarangkul
Michael Srimomsap
Post-production Supervisor
Clare St. john
Assistant Directors
Nick Heckstall-Smith
Richard Styles
George Walker
Andrea Slater
Tippawan 'Paew' Mamanee
Usarawadee 'Moo Dang' Eamsakul
Charlie Sungkawess
2nd Unit:
George Walker
Script Supervisors
Anna Worley
2nd Unit:
Zoë Morgan
Gail Stevens
Kate Dowd
Raweeporn 'Non' Srimonju
ADR Voice:
Louis Elman
2nd Unit Cameraman/Operator
Giles Nuttgens
Underwater Unit Director of Photography
Mike Valentine
Close Range Aerial Photography
Flying-Cam Inc
Camera Operators
Graham Hall
Adam Dale
Louis Prezelin
Steadicam Operator
Peter Robertson
Wescam Technician
Aerial Units:
Steven Winslow
Digital Effects Supervisor
Robert Duncan
Digital Effects Producer
Drew Jones
Digital Visual Effects
Computer Film Company
Digital Effects Co-ordinator:
Ruth Greenberg
Digital Effects Designers:
Adrian De Wet
Dan Glass
Kat Szuminska
Mark Nettleton
John Thum
Head of 3D:
Dominic Parker
3D Designers:
Stephen Murphy
Justin Martin
Sally Goldberg
Richard Clarke
Chris Monks
Dayne Cowan
Digital Paint Artists:
Siobhan Lo
Alex Payman
Ian Fellows
Digital Effects Editorial:
Roz Lowrie
Tabitha Dean
Digital Scanning/Recording:
Jan Hogevold
Steve Tizzard
Adam Glasman
Darrel Griffin
Additional Digital Effects
3D Designs:
Mike Milne
David Marsh
Daren Horley
Richard Ducker
Carlos Rosas
Video Compositing:
Tim Osborne
Special Effects
Clive Beard
Senior Technician:
Steve Cullane
Kevin Rogan
John Fontana
Ian Thompson
Wiroj 'Roj' Nu
Chalermpol 'Pol' Pan
Po Ketkorn
Prajuab Yasuk
Shark Design
Pennicott Payne Ltd
Senior Technician:
David Payne
Anton Prickett
Model Maker
Louis Glickman
Alex Garland
Computer Graphics
Bionic Digital
Supervising Art Director
Rod McLean
Art Directors
Kuladee Suchatanun
Ben Scott
Ricky Eyres
Set Decorator
Anna Pinnock
Scenic Artist
Oscar Wilson
Storyboard Artist
Jim Stanes
Costume Designer
Rachael Fleming
Costume Supervisors
Steven Noble
Mutita 'Air' Na Songkla
Costume Mistress
Natalie Ward
Chief Make-up/
Sallie Jaye
Make-up Artist
Polly Earnshaw
Mark Coulier
Paul Spateri
Duncan Jarman
Matthew Smith
Foam Technician:
Andrew Lee
Tapio Salmi
Barbara Taylor
Cine Image
Studio 51
Additional Score/Remixing
Barry Adamson
Children's Choir
The Sylvia Young Theatre School
Choral Co-ordinator
Jenny O'Grady
Clem Clempson
Frank Ricotti
David Arch
Score Conductor
Phil Marshall
Angelo Badalamenti
Patrick Russ
Music Editor
Gerard McCann
Score Electronics
Phil Marshall
Score Recordist/Mixer
Geoff Foster
Score Recordists
Jake Jackson
Ben Georgiades
"Snake Blood" by Neil Barnes, Paul Daley, performed by Leftfield; "Woozy" by Maxi Jazz, Rollo, Sister Bliss, performed by Faithless; "Brutal" by/performed by New Order; "8 Ball" by Rick Smith, Karl Hyde, performed by Underworld (Darren Emerson, Rick Smith, Karl Hyde); "Beached" by Angelo Badalamenti, remix by Orbital; "Porcelain" by/performed by Moby; "Spinning Away" by Brian Eno, John Cale, performed by Sugar Ray; "Pure Shores" by William Orbit, Shaznay Lewis, Suzanne Melvoin, performed by All Saints; "Return of Django" by Lee Perry, performed by Asian Dub Foundation; "Synasthesia" by Tom Holkenborg, performed by Junkie XL; "Out of Control" by Thomas Rowlands, Edmund Simons, Bernard Sumner, performed by The Chemical Brothers; "Fiesta Conga" by Patrick Prins, Ardy Beezemer, performed by Movin' Melodies, contains a sample of "SomebodyElse's Guy (Me Did Love You)" by Jocelyn Brown & Annette Brown; "Voices" by Stephen Spencer, Paul Geoffrey Spencer, Scott Rosser, performed by Dario G featuring Vanessa Quinones; "Redemption Song" by Bob Marley; "On Your Own (Crouch End Broadway mix and Walter Wall Mix)" by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Steven Alexander James, Dave Rowntree, performed by Pulp; "Bloody Boy" by Angelo Badalamenti and tom&andy; "Neon Reprise" by Simon Schackleton, Howard Saunders; "There's Something about Mary" performed by Lunatic Calm; "Richard, It's Business as Usual" by/performed by Barry Adamson; "Smoke Two Joints" by Chris Kay, Michael Kay; "Yeke Yeke (Hardfloor Mix)" by/performed by Mory Kanté; "Lonely Soul" by Richard Ashcroft, Wil Malone, J. Davis, performed by Unkle
Sound Design
Glenn Freemantle
Sound Recordist
Peter Lindsay
Re-recording Mixers
Ray Merrin
Graham Daniel
Supervising Sound Editor
Glenn Freemantle
Supervising Dialogue Editor
Max Hoskins
Dialogue Editor
Nigel Mills
Sound Effects Editor
Peter Baldock
Robert Farr
Andy Thompson
Paula Borham
Stan Fiferman
Jean Sheffield
Kevin Tayler
Christopher Ackland
Marine Co-ordinator
Lance Julian
Stunt Co-ordinators
Marc Boyle
Kawee 'Seng' Sirikanerat
John Nixon
Action Vehicle/Animal Co-ordinator
Thanadech 'Ben' Thananorrakarn
Aerial Co-ordinator/Pilot
Aerial Units:
Mark Wolfe
Flying-Cam Pilot
David Storey
Film Extract
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Leonardo DiCaprio
Tilda Swinton
Virginie Ledoyen
Guillaume Canet
Robert Carlyle
Paterson Joseph
Lars Arentz Hansen
Daniel York
Patcharawan Patarakijjanon
hotel receptionist
Somboon Phutaroth
cleaning woman
Weeratham 'Norman' Wichairaksakul
Jak Boon
travel agent
Peter Youngblood Hills
Jerry Swindall
Krongthong Thampradith
woman with key
Abhijati 'Meuk' Jusakul
senior farmer
Sanya 'Gai' Cheunjit
Kaneung 'Nueng' Kenla
Somchai Santitarangkul
Kawee 'Seng' Sirikanerat
Somkuan 'Kuan' Siroon
Zelda Tinska
Victoria Smurfit
Daniel Caltagirone
Peter Gevisser
Lidija Zovkic
Samuel Gough
Staffan Kihlbom
Jukka Hiltunen
Magnus Lindgren
Myriam Acharki
Andrew Carmichael
Josh Cole
Hélène de Fougerolles
Bindu de Stoppani
Stacy Hart
Nina Jacques
Sheriden Jones
Gunilla Karlson
Sian Martin
Isabella Seibert
Elizabeth Thomas
Michael Thorpe
Timothy Webster
Ramon Woolfe
beach community members
Saskia Mulder
Simone Huber
Raweeporn 'Non' Srimonju
20th Century Fox (UK)
tbc feet
118 minutes 58 seconds
Colour/Prints by Technicolor Ltd.
Super 35 [2.35:1]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011