When’s it out?
Who’s in it?
Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Douglas Henshall.
What’s it about?
After requesting to be posted to a grey and battle-torn part of Northern Britain (much to the confusion of his superiors) a young Roman garrison commander named Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) ventures into the dangerous lands to the north of Hadrian’s wall, in an attempt to recover a lost legionary Roman Eagle standard which originally disappeared alongside his father’s patrol unit; a unit that vanished without a trace in the same region twenty years previously. If this last titbit sounds vaguely familiar, that’s probably because it also formed the basis for Neil Marshall’s terrific pulp slash ‘em up Centurion from last year.
What’s it like?
Centurion, but without the trash-factor and with one eye kept very firmly on those who may be looking for something a little less throwaway.
Star of the show?
As was to be expected, heavy hitters like Donald Sutherland and Mark Strong dominate the screen in comparably small roles, and Jamie Bell gives excellent support, but Channing Tatum shows both charisma and thoroughbred acting chops here. Although his transition from teen hunk to movie star isn’t complete just yet, the fact that Marcus Aquila is an often completely unlikeable character – he’s vain, obsessed with his own status and a remorselessly cold-blooded killer – suggests that Tatum is clearly a bit more adventurous than many people probably realised, and is potentially only a few pigeon steps away from proving himself as a serious thesp of real range.
Ever since Mel Gibson’s barnstorming classic Braveheart hit cinema screens back in 1995, any historical action movie of this ilk has never felt entirely confident unless it was incorporating bucketloads of the red stuff in the pursuit of hardcore authenticity. The Eagle is a violent film to be sure; but it’s also never especially graphic, and the fact that the action sequences don’t feel watered-down or lightweight as a result is a huge testament to the skill of director Kevin Macdonald.
The entire final act of the film is a knife-edge chase sequence that takes place across the entirety of the Scottish Highlands, but as brilliant as that segment is, the opening battle is destined to throw you off guard in the best possible way. As the esteemed American film critic Roger Ebert stated, “the battle scenes are about heroism and strategy, not special effects” and as the first combat sequence opens, it becomes clear very quickly that a less imaginative film-maker than Kevin Macdonald would surely have nervously felt the need to rely on genre cliche; instead, an unusual emphasis is placed on palm-sweating suspense. Brilliantly, the Roman Legion’s savage enemies are, at first, kept completely in the background; in a series of sinister out-of-focus camera shots.
The Eagle‘s director has referred to the film very simply as “a big, old fashioned adventure movie” and that pretty much sums things up perfectly. It’s exciting enough to satisfy the post-pub Saturday night action crowd, but also uncomplicated and well-told enough for it to stand as ideal viewing for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Chase movie, adventure, thriller and bromance, The Eagle is rock solid entertainment for pretty much all ages.
Hit or miss?
An understated but exciting and uncommonly engaging hit.
Watch The Eagle trailer here: