Loosely based on an historical incident in which Rome’s Ninth Legion disappeared over the Scottish border and was never heard of again. An engaging mashup of Gladiator, Braveheart and Last of the Mohicans, its an old-shool adventure with a touch of British grit.
Centurion Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), son of the missing Legion’s commander, arrives in Roman Britain just in time to see off a local uprising. Injured and discharged from the army, Marcellus saves a condemned Briton, Esca (Jamie Bell) whom he is given as a personal slave.
Free to pursue his obsession, master and slave set off North of Hadrian’s Wall, built to divide the Empire from the Caledonian tribes, beyond the edge of the known world, on Marcus’ quest to recover the Legion’s lost gold eagle standard. With only the resentful former rebel Esca as his guide, friendship and loyalty are tested among the tribe of the Seale people.
The career of Director Kevin MacDonald, grandson of legendary filmmaker Emeric Pressburger, swings between fiction and documentary; previous works include Internet portmanteau Life in a Day, the thriller State of Play, My Enemy’s Enemy, drama The Last King of Scotland and the true-life cliff-hanger Touching the Void. MacDonald casts against type, the Americans playing the Roman world super-power, the Brits as the savages. His Scottish landscapes look bleak and bitingly cold, the craggy highlands are gloomy, wet and harsh, yet painted with exquisite care.
The problem is Channing Tatum. While he looks the part and can brood and do the fighting, he is excruciatingly wooden in a well-written role. You wonder what someone – anyone – else could have done with it. Things are made worse by the fact that Jamie Bell exerts a magnetic pull in every frame he’s in. Add Mark Strong’s heavyweight presence as ex-soldier Guern and Tatum is all but wiped off the screen. Even old stager Donald Sutherland, practically sleep-walking through his scenes reliant on lazy charm and lazy delivery, puts Tatum in the shade.
MacDonald’s bleak dark-age Britain is populated by tribal body-painted Mad Max, punk-haired hard men. The ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ finale is robust but lacking any real blood and the epilogue is a lame as Marcus’ gammy leg. For all that, The Eagle has a decent script, is well executed and earnest; it never strays into camp or melodrama and the military funeral scene could have been a cliché too far if directed by anyone else. Dud leading man or no, I’ll take all those qualities in a movie any day. RC
Certification: PG-13 / 12A
Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.
Drama, Action & Adventure, Classics
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writer: Jeremy Brock, based on the Rosemary Sutcliffe novel Eagle of the Ninth.
Cast: Channing Tatum, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Paul Ritter, Tahar Rahim, Denis O’Hare, Douglas Henshall,