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UK, 1998 (MIFF 2000, International Panorama)

Director: William Boyd

The Somme, First of July, 1916. What Saving Private Ryan did for Word War II Europe and Apocalypse Now did for jungle conflict, William Boyd's shattering The Trench does for the muddy, bloody killing fields of France during the Great War. This astonishing first feature focuses on a battle weary and frightened group of men, awaiting orders to commence a massive offensive against the German army massed in trenches within shouting distance of their own. Palpable tension builds; the oppressive dirt and squalor of the maze of trenches impacts on the men. Like classic war films including Catch 22 and Gallipoli, The Trench effectively conveys the central failure of the tactics of the generals and the uncommon bravery of the common man. Boyd never pulls up short of exposing the realities of combat—a precedent set by the graphic depictions splashed across the screen in the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan and the box-office hit The Thin Red Line—but the director exhibits restraint in not having the audience wading through gore. For highly evocative ground level tension look no further.

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