When the Boyle/Macdonald /Hodge crew turned Irvine Welsh's cult-hit Trainspotting into a hugely celebrated multiplex-packer, they deftly proved that you can adapt an "unfilmable" book - and make the resulting movie a huge success. The Beach is their second attempt at adaptation, but the difference is Alex Garland's tropical thriller was always eminently filmable, given the twentysomething scribbler's undeniably cinematic prose. Which is why it's so surprising that The Beach isn't... well... really that great.
Don't get us wrong: this is by no stretch of the imagination a bad film. The cinematography, by Jeunet and Caro (Delicatessen, City Of Lost Children) collaborator Darius Khondji, is wonderfully lush, the soundtrack - - combining an Angelo Badalamenti score with tunes from the likes of Blur, Leftfield and New Order - - perfectly complements the photography, and the central performances are spot-on.
Virginie Ledoyen's made the leap from the French film scene to the Hollywood mainstream with a sparkling turn as Françoise, the mischievous Gallic backpackeress. Robert Carlyle, meanwhile (obviously on loan from the World Is Not Enough shoot), was the ideal choice for mashed-up paradise refugee Daffy. DiCaprio also dexterously climbs into his character, providing a timely reminder that his post-Titanic pin-up status shouldn't cloud the fact that he's still a very accomplished actor.
But the fact that a pretty, young American - - and a hugely famous one at that - - was cast as a weirdo British traveller has, understandably, caused some consternation among fans of the book. However, the trio's decision to make Richard a Yank actually works, reinforcing the character's position as an outsider while providing him with a unique position within the Beach's community. The problems arise when you scrutinise some of the other plot changes. And if you want to go in totally cold, you should probably skip the next paragraph.
Firstly, the recreation of Richard as the island stud simply doesn't work, and sets up some unconvincing relationship dynamics with certain other characters. If Hodge did this to lend some dramatic thrust to the novel's rather sluggish central section, then he's unfortunately failed, as the movie still suffers from a lack of pace during the relatively uneventful second act. Furthermore, Richard's slide into fantasy/insanity happens too late and too suddenly, thanks mainly to the cutting down of Daffy's pivotal role and the complete removal of Jed, the Beach's Nam-freaked `security' man and, arguably, the novel's strongest character. Still, Hodge at least manages to make the climax far more satisfying than Garland's preposterously gory meltdown.
To be fair, The Beach does make for satisfying cinema, and you'll hardly feel let down by Boyle's stylistically adventurous approach (try to ignore the embarrassing GameBoy scene, though). The trouble is, it's not exactly dazzling, and it remains to be seen whether or not the Britpack darlings will ever make anything as great or groundbreaking as Trainspotting or Shallow Grave.