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Star – Channing Tatum
Genre – Action
Run Time – 114 minutes
Certificate – PG13
Country – USA
Awards – One Nomination
Amazon – £29.99 DVD (£2.96Blue Ray)
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There have been a couple of movies out recently about the infamous Roman Ninth Legion that disappeared in AD120, most likely slaughtered by the peasants of northern Britain although other theories remain. The children’s book ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’ seems to cement that theory for future Hollywood movies. The Eagle is one of the two movies and Centurion the other. Both are popcorn action flicks that rely more on hunky sword wielding leading men than of what historical accuracy there is of that time, The Eagle slightly more dramatic than the blood thirsty and somewhat routine Centurion, ironic as method actor Michael Fassbender is the star of the latter and Channing Tatum the former. Don’t worry girls; they both look good in a toga. Centurion covered the slaughter of the 5000 strong Roman army in the north with its thesis where’s as The Eagle picks up events twenty years after, Rome buying the shame of its defeat by never mentioning it again on history book and dispateches.
Channing Tatum ... Marcus
Jamie Bell …Slave Esca
István Göz ... Cohort Centurion
Bence Gerö ... Celt Boy / Young Marcus
Denis O'Hare ... Lutorius
Paul Ritter ... Galba
Zsolt László ... Paulus
Julian Lewis Jones ... Cassius
Aladár Laklóth ... Flavius Aquila
Young Centurion Marcus Flavia Aquillia (Channing Tatum) has his first posting in Northern Britain, the son of a famous general who led the notorious Ninth Legion, who were mysteriously lost in battle some twenty years ago, Marcus looking to restore his fathers honor.
His fort is soon under attack by the Celtic warriors and Marcus only too keen to be heroic as his 50 strong battalion attacks numbers ten times his. Waking up in hospital we hear his unit is victorious and Marcus back in Rome recuperating in his Uncles villa after his ordeal, honorably discharged for his injuries with medals for his bravery. But he is restless and hears of reports that the eagle that his Father 9th legion carried into that fateful battle that shamed Rome has been located deep in the north and Marcus intends to recover it for his father and Rome.
His travelling companion will be his slave Esca (Jamie Bell), who owes Marcus for saving his life, also a northern Celt that speaks the lingo but sworn a vowel of honor to help Marcus recover his fathers pride and The Eagle. As they reach Adrian’s Wall they will be on their own on the other side and Esca able to take out Marcus at any point, if he so chooses.
Esca: How can a piece of metal mean so much to you?
Marcus Aquila: The eagle is not a piece of metal. The eagle is Rome.
It’s ok, as is Centurion. Whereas Centurion is all exaggerated blood spurting, sword clunking macho nonsense The Eagle goes for the more pithy bromance approach, Channing Tatum putting the ‘wood’ in Hollywood with his buddie toga movie. He actually quipped in an interview to try and sell this movie that ‘he and Jamie Bell had been sleeping with each other for ages’. Bell, of course, was unfairly labeled with that closet gay thing after his brilliant turn in Billy Elliot. Tatum is as heterosexual as you can get and most girls fantasy.
The dialect and scripting is as clunky as the sword fights but the film moves along quickly with no messing around or distracting love stories. It’s that full on bromance as savage helps educated savage comes to terms with manly pride things. The plus side is that it’s not too over the top and about the body count. The Scottish savages get subtitles (no change there then) and the fight scenes are far more realistic here and none of that CGI spraying blood, Manga style. The film looks great to and so time to take in the stunningly rural beauty of The Highlands.
It5 cost $25 Million to make and did $35 million back and so considered a pass. It’s a bog standard historical action drama though and it lacks enough factual drama to be intriguing or swashbuckling action and acting to be a Braveheart. What we have here is by-the-number date flick with a hunky popular star in it and all the commercial boxes ticked. It’s nowhere near as bad as the critics say and looks good for its $25 million budget. It’s definitely one to catch on TV or Tivo than one to go out of the way to rent and buy.
Imdb.com – 6.2/10.0 (50,027 votes)
Rottentomatos.com –39% critic’s approval
Metacriitc.com – 55% critic’s approval
Leonard Maltin Film Year Book – 3/4
The Baltic Times –‘Fighting isn't big and it isn't clever. But, in the case of "The Eagle," it's the most interesting part of the movie’.
Reel Film Reviews –‘...a distressingly uneven actioner that's rarely as entertaining as one might've hoped...’
The Times –‘Sadly not a movie about the big-chinned ski jumper Eddie Edwards, this underwhelming feature instead revolves around the 'Ted and Ralph' style bromance between a master and servant during the Roman occupation of England’
Examiner.com –‘It really all comes down to the story. Just like Tatum wasn't up to the task of bringing the character to life, the filmmakers weren't up to the task of bringing the story to life, and that makes all the difference’..
We got the Covered –‘Despite its bleak atmosphere and sparse storyline, period drama The Eagle is a pleasant surprise. It entertains with some great sword play, and the themes of honor and bravery overcome the simplicity of the story’.
**What is the film about?**
The film is set during Roman times and we follow a young man on a quest to restore pride to his Father's good name. His father led 5000 men to Britain with "the Eagle" of the Roman Empire (symbolising all that Rome had done and all it continued to do...i.e. it showed power). According to true stories, the men disappeared without a trace, and this fictional film follows on from this legend (explained to you for ten seconds in a Star-Wars-esque text screen at the start). As far as I can tell although the film is grounded in loose truths to start, the ensuing story is entirely fictional.
For more on the "vanished 9th Legion of Rome" : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legio_IX_Hispana
**Will I like the film?**
The film is basically an action film set in Britain during Roman times. If you like 300, Braveheart, Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Spartacus etc. you will probably quite like this film. It has action, lots of horses riding through forests at high speed, it has brotherhood in it. There is blood, death and a bit of squeamish gore occasionally. Nothing a girl can't handle though :D Oh....the odd murdering of a child here and there did disturb me though, just thought I'd warn you in case that would be too upsetting.
Hmm... I didn't know the main actor, Channing Tatum, possibly because he doesn't stand out at all in the film. He seems typecast to the role and plays it with little feeling and really, I just didn't care too much about his character. The supporting actor, Jamie Bell was awesome and I really felt for his character. I did feel that the script was a little loose on the ground. I felt rather than intermittent flashbacks when the main character got knocked out (several occasions conveniently!) and the Star-Wars-Textscreen-Intro, we could have done with seeing the back story of the two main characters and their different histories. It just seemed a bit feeble and the relationships seemed convenient at times.
Their accents got on my nerves too, there didn't seem to be any sort of consistency.
Other actors such as Dennis O'Hare and Paul Ritter seemed to be almost extras with a few lines, surprisingly as I think they are really good in True Blood and Friday Night Dinner respectively.
Overall, I did like the film, there was lots of tension, particularly near to the end, it felt very real. The story was good, the acting was OK, the story was OK. 300 it was not. Game of Thrones it was not. But I did like it so 3 stars from me. Would have been 4 if the main actor had stepped up to the role properly.
(FILM ONLY REVIEW)
'The Eagle' made in 2011 is yet another 'Sword and Sandal' historical adventure that looks at the events surrounding the real life mystery involving the 'Legio IX Hispana', the ninth legion stationed in Roman Britain and said to have disappeared from the known records around AD 117. Following on from other recent films dealing with this subject 'Centurion' (2010) and more loosely 'The Last Legion' (2007) 'The Eagle' is the latest attempt to bring this popular story to the big screen. Although there is still much debate over the true historical facts latest historical research suggests that whatever happened to the ninth legion it did not cease to exist in that year and most probably it was simply removed from Britain to re-enforce the at the time more volatile eastern border of the empire. However this wouldn't make for a good story, so just as the others did to varying degrees this film draws upon the popular theory that the legion was massacred by a Pict uprising north Hadrian's Wall. This version of events was first fictionalised in the novel 'The Eagle of the Ninth' 'by Rosemary Sutcliff published in 1954 and the film fairly faithfully follows the story.
It is 140 AD, twenty years after the mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Legion in the mountains beyond the northernmost border of the Roman Empire in Britain. A young centurion Marcus Aquila takes up a new command in the border area determined to solve the mystery of the missing legion and to restore the reputation of his father the former commander of the Ninth who shamed Rome by allowing the legion's standard to be captured by enemy forces. After a unfortunate series of events Marcus accompanied only by a slave Esca sets out beyond Hadrian's Wall into the dangerous highlands of Scotland to retrieve the lost golden standard and finally come to terms with his father's death.
I have not read the original story this film is based on but I have been told by those who have that this is a fairly accurate adaptation of the hugely popular 1950's children story. If this is true and having seen the film I can understand the popularity of the original, 'The Eagle' is a very good action adventure story well told and well plotted.
The first thing to say is that 'The Eagle' looks wonderful. Shot on location in Hungary and the director Kevin Macdonald's native Scotland and thanks mainly to Anthony Dod Mantle's who has worked on visually stunning films like Lars von Trier's 'Antichrist' and Danny Boyle's 'Slumdog Millionaire', the rugged views of the highlands straddled in mist or pouring with rain effectively bring a sense of mystical wonder and primeval fear, which must have existed in the eyes of the Roman soldier on entering such alien environment. This was the end of the world and it felt like it. The director makes heavy use hand-held cameras to enlist a documentary like feel to proceedings not a new trick these days but still effective when applied judiciously although even here it is overdone in some of the action sequences. With a relatively modest budget of just over £20 million Macdonald as made a British made film looks as good as many of the more expensive Hollywood action blockbusters. Macdonald is a rather unusual film director cutting his teeth early on in his career on some outstanding documentaries like 'Touching the Void' (2003) and feature films like 'Last King of Scotland' (2006) and 'State Of Play' (2009). 'The Eagle is yet another departure from his past work and is probably his boldest film to date and once again shows his versatility as a director.
The story as related in the original book is little more than a boys own adventure, nothing wrong with that but in the film added depth and thought is given to the characters and their emotional interactions. The central relationship between Marcus an honourable and very straight laced Roman Commander and Esca his slave but also a Brigantes Prince is fascinating. We see how the balance of power start to shift between the two as the venture further into the wild of the north, but at the same time their mutual respect and interdependence increases and a real friendship is formed.
The cast is strong, Channing Tatum the square jawed all American boy is not the obvious choice to play the honourable Roman and certainly he doesn't attempt to hide his American accent of demeanour and yet his arrogance, his haughtiness with the natives and his ruthlessness in purpose convincing traits in a Roman. Some critics have found a modern political allegory in this film which becomes obvious once you replace one ancient imperial power Rome with a more modern imperial power the US. The story of the subjugation of a people from an alien culture by an imperialist power could just as well apply to the modern middle-east as it this to ancient Britain in Roman times. Maybe this is why Tatum Americanism in the role doesn't seem so strange.
Jamie Bell who I feel still hasn't quite fulfilled the potential shown in Billy Elliot, is fine as the brooding slave who hates Rome but is duty and honour bound to serve his master Marcus after he was saved from death by him in the gladiatorial arena. There is also the welcomed appearance of Donald Sutherland an actor who is always worth watching in most things he does as Marcus's kindly Uncle Aquila who nurses Marcus back to health after an attack on the northern outpost and buys Esca for him as a manservant. The other performance of note is that of Mark Strong as the veteran roman legionnaire Guern. He wears a lot of facial hair in this so at first I didn't recognise him but as always strong does have a habit of stealing the scenes from others around him and is another who presence in a film makes even a bad film (Guy Ritchie's 'Revolver' might be the exception!) worth seeking out. One further actor to mention is Tahar Rahim star of last year's brilliant French prison thriller 'A Prophet'. He plays the Seal Prince almost unrecognisable under the blue face paint.
The other way that this film can be viewed is surprisingly enough as a western, certainly the central friendship between the Roman master and the Briton slave can be seen as that of a lawman and his prisoner as seen in countless traditional westerns. The epic landscape and the very macho bonding of the two men against the savagery of the highlands and its natives again remind us of something John Ford might have filmed in his heyday. The similarities are enforced even further by the portrayal of the Pictish 'Seal People' suspiciously like native Americans right down to their Mohican like haircuts and tomahawk like hand weapon of choice. The native tribes are portrayed as brutal superstitious yet noble savages, theirs is a rightful grievance against the conquering Romans it is their land and they will do anything to protect it.
The film's 'boys own yarn' type roots are reinforces by a distinct lack of female characters. Apart from a few village women in no speaking parts there are no other female roles, even the equally macho 'Centurion' included an admittedly preposterous Pictish female warrior to redress the gender balance.
CAST and Tech Details
Channing Tatum...Marcus Aquila
Jamie Bell ...Esca
Donald Sutherland ...Uncle Aquila
Mark Strong ...Guern
Aladár Laklóth...Flavius Aquila
Tahar Rahim ...Seal Prince
Ned Dennehy... Seal Chief / The Horned One
Directed by Kevin Macdonald.
Written by Jeremy Brock (screenplay) adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff's novel "The Eagle of the Ninth".
Runtime: 114 min
UK certificate: 12A- primarily as there is no sex or nudity and only non-graphic violence and a little gore.
I really enjoyed 'The Eagle' the story unfolds at a good pace, the characters are believable and well drawn out and the central relationship between the leads is sensitively handled. The cinematography is excellent proving some breathtaking visuals of the landscape with atmospheric weather conditions. The film could have been even better if the finale had been a little less of a letdown. In fact there seem to be two endings , the 'second ending' almost a prologue seems to be added as an afterthought and I felt was at odds with the rest of the script, but despite this 'The Eagle' is still worth seeing and its positives do far outweigh its flaws.
'The Eagle' on DVD can be bought from Amazon UK for £10.31 with free delivery at the time this review was written.
© Mauri 2011