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Unfortunately, the director of The Trench did not feel that character development is particularly important and the viewer is presented with a bunch of stock characters that never gain much definition. The main characters (by type) are: the young, rookie private; the older, experienced sergeant; the weak lieutenant; the disgruntled soldier; the jerk; and the fat, optimistic soldier. The viewer learns precious little about these characters, other than that they generally interact poorly with each other. Indeed, there is very little indication of friendship, cooperation or comradeship that make a real military unit work. It would have been nice to get some background on where these troops come from and how much combat experience they had, but the director almost presents them as ciphers. One of the more interesting aspects of the Battle of the Somme was the character of the British "Pals" battalions, formed from tight social groups like rugby teams or clerks back in England.Read more ›
Several things are lacking, like the dry trenches (never happen) and the clean uniforms (Britain had been in the war for two years), but perfection would make it five stars, rather than four.
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Unfortunately, the director of The Trench did not feel that character development is particularly important and the viewer is presented with a bunch of stock characters that never gain much definition. The main characters (by type) are: the young, rookie private; the older, experienced sergeant; the weak lieutenant; the disgruntled soldier; the jerk; and the fat, optimistic soldier. The viewer learns precious little about these characters, other than that they generally interact poorly with each other. Indeed, there is very little indication of friendship, cooperation or comradeship that make a real military unit work. It would have been nice to get some background on where these troops come from and how much combat experience they had, but the director almost presents them as ciphers. One of the more interesting aspects of the Battle of the Somme was the character of the British "Pals" battalions, formed from tight social groups like rugby teams or clerks back in England. A "Pals" battalion would have been much more interesting than this near-dysfunctional team.
The plot is also a major problem with The Trench because there is so little of it. Most of the film focuses on the 72 hours prior to the attack and is thus anticipatory in nature. While there is one small night raid into No Mans Land, a brief artillery bombardment and a sniper attack, much of the film is quite slow. Indeed, the director wastes an incredible amount of time on two ridiculous but inter-related subjects: a stolen pornographic postcard and the young private mooning over an Irish waitress whom he met briefly before shipping out. Clearly, the director has no idea how to sequence a dramatic film and he appears to stuff anything handy - however absurd - into the cracks. Furthermore, the director is unable to bring out the kind of tension that exists prior to a big attack - which Gallipoli did so well.
Even the "big" attack at the end is a major disappointment. A&E's "Lost Battalion" last year had for more convincing scenes of trench warfare than "The Trench's" limp attack at the end. We see perhaps 50-60 troops marching across a green meadow that lacks a single shell crater, uphill (!), against a German line that seems to consist of a single row of barbed wire. Apparently, there wasn't much budget for extras, location or special effects. Given that this was the largest single attack ever launched by the British Army, this film's depiction of it appears to minimize a great and tragic event. Instead of seeing rows of British troops mowed down (and like Spielberg's Private Ryan, this film should have made some effort to show what the attack looked like from the German side), we see individuals go down.
To say the ending was a rip-off of some other war movie is just silly -- how else could it have ended? This was the Somme. You don't make a movie about the first day of the Somme if you want anything other than a massacre.
To the person complaining about No Man's Land being a grassy meadow. There was a place called Serre where the attacking British DID cross a grassy meadow. The grass was so long, as the wounded men fell, some of the others thought there'd been an order to get down, and so they did too, only to find the others wounded or dead.
To the guy complaining about the lack of homoerotic content, all I can say is, oh well. Not everything's always about sex.
Movies about battles like this, you can look at from a big picture perspective or you can zoom in for a close look at a group of individuals. This movie goes for the close-up. It's not trying to be anything else. This is a movie about the strain of the long hours waiting for a major offensive to begin, for a bunch of young guys, most of whom were new to the war. It's dumb to criticize it for failing to be something else. I thought it did a pretty good job of portraying the situation. The boredom, the fear, how difficult it would be to sleep or eat or turn off your brain during those long hours. The ways the men might snipe at one another over little things due to frayed nerves. The relationship between the men, the sergeant and the lieutenant was subtle but I think well-done.
My complaints are that it goes about a half hour too long. The trench looked mighty tidy to me too. I had trouble believing that a shell big enough to blow 2 men to bits wouldn't have done more damage to the structure of the trench there.
Also most of these guys would have known each other from civilian life; the British army had a lot of "Pals Battalions" where guys from the same village or area joined up and served together. Most of these guys should have known one another.
I am pretty sure I saw a guy light a cigarette with a Bic-type lighter and I'm pretty sure they would not have had something like that.
I think for a look at "trench life" for a bunch of newbies about to go over the top for the first time, it was pretty good.
The characters are childish stereotypes talking in unbelievable clichés and the film is frequently just plain wrong about details and attitudes of the average WW1 Tommy: politically correct, maybe, but historically it's a travesty (no Mr Boyd, officers DID go over the top: the highest percentage of casualties was officers, and even many generals died in battle).
But more than being badly directed, looking cheap, getting its facts wrong and going with every cliché Boyd can find, it's biggest sin is that it's just so bloody boring. Bad on every level.
WW1 was a terrible tragedy, and those who died in it deserve better than this terrible, terrible film.
Characters constantly explain what they're doing to each other despite having been in the trench for several weeks or months; there's no immediacy, no sense of danger, no sense of having to live in a fetid, claustrophobic open grave. Indeed, it's one of the most comfortable British trenches I've seen, with an absolutely level floor for the most part place. The soft barrage - the quietest I've ever heard for shells landing 700 yards away - doesn't help. Boyd really doesn't have any idea of the possibilities that cinema has to offer, either camera or sound. It's real problem, though, is that ultimately it's a polite, clean and determinedly inoffensive film about a dirty, ugly war.
Pluses are some good performances, most notably Daniel Craig and Paul Nicholls, the latter improving after a bland start to establish a credible screen presence. There are a couple of good scenes, too, but it doesn't really have the ring of truth or authenticity - the mood seems more influenced by hindsight than the actual mood in the run-up to the first day. Not only do you never feel you're there alongside them, but there's no sense of people caught up in, and disposed by the mad rush of a cruel history beyond their control. There's no dread, no fear, just observation. The shortfall between the film Boyd thought he was making and the bland one he did is all too apparent all too often.