The UnPopular Opinion: The Beach

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!


With the recent news that Danny Boyle and Leonardo DiCaprio may reteam on Sony's Steve Jobs biopic, I thought it might be the perfect time to revisit what I consider to be one of Boyle's best and most underrated films. THE BEACH was released in 2000 right at the height of DiCaprio's post-TITANIC fandom and remains an early sample of the fiery Leo we have come to expect with every role. Part LORD OF THE FLIES and part TRAINSPOTTING, THE BEACH is an enduring and powerful psychological thriller that deserves to be recognized.

THE BEACH, adapted from the Alex Garland novel, transports the viewer to the utopian paradise of Thailand, a land foreign to most Americans. Taking us through the perspective of a young man exploring the world on his own for the first time may not seem to be the most unique setup for a film, but it has rarely been presented in such a "warts and all" type film. There is no gloss on THE BEACH but rather a portrait of a very real scenario that any gullible young person could find themselves in: follow your dick and you may regret it. The forbidden fruit in THE BEACH takes the form of beautiful french actress Virginia Ledoyen and her boyfriend played by Guillaume Canet.

Damn, Begbie let himself go after TRAINSPOTTING.

As the trio embarks to find the mysterious beach in the title from a map provided by a goofy Scotsman named Daffy (the always awesome Robert Carlyle), Richard (DiCaprio) and Francoise (Ledoyen) fall in love. Now, by this point you may be thinking that THE BEACH sounds like every crappy teen fantasy and just plopping Leonardo DiCaprio into the lead provides the perfect box office boost for an otherwise stale story. You would be right if that was the movie THE BEACH would be from beginning to end, but Boyle's film morphs from road picture, to travelogue, to psychedelic trip, to thriller, and eventually existential conundrum.

Reaching the mysterious beach, the trio discovers a tribe of expatriates led by Sal (Tilda Swinton) who live by their own code. Like any kid who has read Peter Pan, Richard wants to join these Lost Boys and remain a young, twentysomething who drinks, smokes, and f*cks day and night, forever. But, real life invades in the guise of responsibility, death, and morality, which DiCaprio sells as a performer way ahead of his age.

Where are they now from left to right: working actress, top Hollywood star, acclaimed director

Only 26 at the time THE BEACH was made, Leonardo DiCaprio stepped in to the role of Richard when Ewan McGregor left due to creative differences with Danny Boyle. THE BEACH would have felt very different with McGregor, himself a very talented actor, in the lead. DiCaprio, dying to break away from the mold TITANIC and ROMEO + JULIET forced him into, created a tormented and enraged young man in this movie that would go on to become his trademark. But, unlike the movie star sheen in those two films, THE BEACH dares to make Richard relatable but very unlikeable. The choices he makes in this movie are hard to defend, even if we can understand why he makes them.

Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for the Razzie for Worst Actor for this film, an honor that remains the sole nomination for that award he has ever received. With such a track record, it seems highly out of place to regard THE BEACH as a smudge on an otherwise impeccable resume. That is because DiCaprio is phenomenal in this movie. The entire cast is. Ledoyen, Swinton, Carlyle, and Canet all deliver spectacular performances for Boyle who still maintained the gritty, yet ethereal approach he used for TRAINSPOTTING, SHALLOW GRAVE, and A LIFE LESS ORDINARY. The screenplay from John Hodge, Boyle's collaborator on those same films, would predate the director's working relationship with Alex Garland, the author of the novel. Garland would go on to script SUNSHINE and 28 DAYS LATER for Boyle as well as the fan favorite DREDD from last year.

Morpheus never offered a green pill…

THE BEACH retains a very "what happens in Thailand…" vibe that makes you question just how many people in real life have experienced such a life altering vacation like what we see in this film. I am sure crazy shit like this happens all the time but we never hear about it. Consider THE BEACH a cautionary tale to be paired as a double feature with Eli Roth's HOSTEL and you may guarantee tourism will drastically decline to Europe and Asia. What you will do is showcase an actor and a director at the beginning of their careers, just as they begin to peak.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!


About the Author

5928 Articles Published

Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.