The Eagle is directed by Kevin Macdonald and adapted to screenplay by Jeremy Brock from the book The Eagle of the Ninth written by Rosemary Sutcliff. It stars Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Tahar Rahim and Mark Strong. Music is scored by Atli Örvarsson and cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle.
In 120 AD, The Roman Ninth Legion marched into Caledonia, they, along with their precious Golden Eagle standard, were never seen again. 20 years later and Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) arrives in Britain to serve as a garrison commander. He carries a burden, though, for the Ninth Legion was led by his father. It is perhaps his destiny that he go forth into Caledonia to maybe solve the mystery and restore honour to the family name?
Better angry than dead.
A film of two different, but equally enjoyable, halves, The Eagle is a delightful throw back to the swords and shields movies of old. All things are in place for a rollicking tale of courage, friendship and honour, and the film mostly delivers on its premise. First half is all about character introduction and motives required for plotting. We get some clanking sword play and splendid synchronised army manoeuvres as a garrison defence unfolds. Great to report that CGI and digital blood are not dominating proceedings, this is very human, even if the editing is of the whippy kind. A turn of events then sees Marcus come by way of Bell's slave, incidents are defined and we then move into the second half of the picture.
Life, life, LIFE!
Here is where the film becomes a character piece as two men from different walks of life, enemies with anger and determination gnawing away at their souls, traverse the magnificent Scottish Highlands (Dod Mantle's photography is breath taking at times) to solve the mystery of The Ninth. What follows is an invigorating olde world adventure where mistrust, redemption and unknown tribes reside. Dialogue stays sharp and Macdonald never lest the pace sag. There's a pleasant adherence to period flavourings, with the Romans and their foes given an intelligent make over by the writer, while it's really refreshing to find there isn't a token female love interest jimmied into the story.
Film, perhaps inevitably given the modest budget and expectations afforded it, is far from flawless, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to understand just what the modern audience, or indeed old classics movie fans, expect of a genre film such as this? The churlish decry the casting of American Tatum in the lead, but what he lacks in actual depth of talent is more than compensated for by him knowing how to make the role of Marcus work. With impressive physicality and square jawed machismo, he cuts a splendid rugged figure, he also knows how to brood, essential for any stoic hero stung by a slur on his family name. Bell slots in nicely as the weak of body but strong of mind slave, Esca, the unrecognisable Rahim scores very well as a warrior tribesman, while the technical touches within the picture (including Örvarsson's score) are genre compliant.
Sutherland's casting is odd, and Mark Strong is badly wasted, and the ending, whilst satisfactory, is not as grandiose as it should be. The latter more galling given the one they rejected, that's available in the extras on the DVD, would have closed the film down far better. Yet this is a far better film than its box office take and internet ratings suggests it is. The days of magnificent historical epics and eye dazzling choreographed sword fights sadly look a long way off now. That doesn't mean that fans of such films have to accept any genre offering that comes their way, for example such as Neil Marshall's very uneven Centurion, but something like the smaller scale treats of The Eagle deserve our support. 7.5/10