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THE EAGLE IS ROME!
The Eagle (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
The Eagle (DVD)
Date: 15/10/11, updated on 15/10/11 (90 review reads)
Advantages: Breathtaking scenery, Good story
Disadvantages: Slightly the ending
(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
Summary: Good adaptation of 'The Eagle of the Ninth' 'by Rosemary Sutcliff