Review by Jack Foley
KEVIN Macdonald’s Roman epic The Eagle is as much inspired by Ridley Scott’s Gladiator as it is Rosemary Sutcliff’s best-selling novel (The Eagle of The Ninth).
For while derived from a popular children’s book, the slavish attention to detail and gritty battle sequences make it a much more visceral affair that may be too intense for younger viewers.
Indeed, it’s technically that The Eagle fares best, delivering the spectacle to rival the best historical epics the genre can muster and making full use of its rugged Scottish Highland setting.
In terms of narrative, however, Macdonald’s film is found wanting… beginning extremely well but ending with something of a whimper. It gets its third act particularly wrong.
The story is centred around centurion Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), who comes to Roman Britain determined to redeem his family’s honour from the stain left by the mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Legion led by his father years earlier.
Teaming up with a British slave named Esca (Jamie Bell), Marcus heads north of the border to find out what really happened.
Early on, Macdonald’s film delivers an absorbing mix of Roman politics and bloody battles as Marcus first establishes his credentials and defends a remote outpost.
There are also some nice scenes between Tatum and Donald Sutherland (as a father figure) while Marcus recovers from injuries sustained in battle.
But once he teams up with Bell’s Esca and heads beyond Roman control, the film starts to lose its grip – and that’s despite some good early tension between Tatum and Bell as well as breathtaking use of the spectacularly harsh environment.
Indeed, once captured by the hostile Seal people and forced into a role reversal, the film begins to rely on one too many unlikely contrivances and threatens to undermine the good work that has come before.
While the ensuing chase sequence and arrival of Mark Strong’s mysterious stranger don’t help matters either and contribute to a climax that feels more Hollywood than historical, and which also gives rise to a groan inducing ‘pat on the back’ style ending.
It’s a shame, for there’s still plenty to admire about The Eagle and Macdonald’s muscular direction, which does benefit massively from the avoidance of CGI and a greater sense of authenticity. For those reasons alone, it remains worth seeing.
Running time: 114mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release Date: July 25, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Channing Tatum interview
- Jamie Bell interview
- Tahar Rahim interview
- Kevin Macdonald and Duncan Kenworthy interview
- The Eagle Photo Gallery
- The Eagle UK Premiere Photo Gallery