The Beach review

Director Warwick Thornton has been going from strength to strength in his filmmaking

In some ways it’s only a short distance from the contemporary tragedy of Samson and Delilah to the 1920s setting for the neo-western Sweet Country (which comments on Australian race relations with a plot like something John Ford would direct), but he’s quickly established himself. 

Thornton has a confidence in his control of what he shows viewers, particularly in action that happens offscreen, and his style seems almost disproportional to the work he has produced.

With The Beach Thornton puts himself at the centre of a powerfully understated experience that appears ridiculously cinematic for a six-part television series, thanks to his son Dylan River.

It opens with Thornton arriving at a remote beach shack on the Western Australian coast and ends with him leaving, while the supporting cast amounts to birds, an animal (spoiler?) and some tasty sea creatures.

Aside from occasionally cursing at the challenges of the setting, his addresses to a group of chickens serve as a device for monologues as Thornton reflects on his life.

I had difficulty forgetting that there would have been a crew watching from outside the frame in those moments, but did not doubt his skills cooking sumptuous fusion meals from a few jars of supplies and meat from the surrounding landscape.

It’s remarkable that the economy in the storytelling required only a couple of scenes showing city life, especially a collection of beer glasses, to give a context for his reasons to escape to the beach for about two months.

Much of the pleasure in watching this holiday is the foraging and cooking he undertakes, but the deeper character development is told with symbols like the flashy jacket he takes off and doesn’t put on again.

In Thornton’s productions the Australian landscape becomes a leading character and The Beach will have you wanting to find your own isolated beachside shack, although this one was apparently purpose-built.