Author and screenwriter William Boyd makes his feature directorial
debut with THE TRENCH, a World War I drama that is equal parts
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and GALLIPOLI. While it lacks
some of the power of those two classic films (directed respectively by
Lewis Milestone and Peter Weir), THE TRENCH does have several things
in its favor, namely standout performances from Daniel Craig and
Paul Nicholls and impressive cinematography from Tony Pierce-Roberts.
Set over the course of the two days in late June just prior to the
Battle of the Somme, THE TRENCH is a look at the horrors of war and
the sacrifice of many young lives in the pursuit of honor and victory. In
focusing on a handful of British soldiers as they confront the realities
surrounding them, Boyd has crafted a typical "war" movie. Because of his
background as a fiction writer and scenarist, though, he manages to avoid
turning most of the characters into stereotypes, although there is some
Boyd has assembled a range of characters from the effete, alcoholic
lieutenant (Julian Rhind-Truitt who perfectly captures the cluelessness of
leadership) to the gruff, teetotalling sergeant (Craig) to the cynical recruit
(James D'Arcy). There's also the loudmouth who turns cowardly (Danny
Dyer) and the requisite innocent (Nicholls). The latter has joined the army
with his slightly older brother (Tam Williams), and the pair share a nicely
written scene in which both express no regrets over their decision to fight.
Undoubtedly THE TRENCH would have worked better on the page
where Boyd's sense of character could prevail. While the situation
should be fraught with dramatic possibilities, Boyd tends to focus on
the mundane: soldiers standing guard, the sergeant trying to maintain
morale, etc. When something does happen like one of the soldiers
being hit by sniper fire - it feels inevitable but in more of a predictable
manner than a hair-raising one.
The feeling of claustrophobia is captured but all too often the
audience senses that the action is transpiring on a soundstage and
not in a real trench. Given the circumstances, the actors (most relatively
unknown to American audiences) perform admirably. Craig makes the
sergeant a compelling figure while Nicholls is meant to be representative
of the innocent. D'Arcy also makes an impression as the mouthy,
THE TRENCH doesn't add anything new to the genre of war films
and especially following in the wake of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN which
raised the bar on depictions of men in battle, it pales. It is an admirable
but unspectacular achievement bolstered by its cast.
Rating: C +
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 98 mins.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.