THE EAGLE - 'Sequel' to Centurion
THE EAGLE (sword-and-sandals adventure)
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Donald Sutherland and Tahar Rahim
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Screenplay: Jeremy Brock, based on Rosemary Sutcliff's novel
Time: 114 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: Coming out almost at the heels of Centurion, this one may be deemed as the sequel to Centurion, continuing the story about the 'disappearance' of Rome's legendary Ninth Legion (with its tale based on Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth). It is good marketing strategy and it should attract fans of sword-and-sandals epics like the Rome TV series.
THE SKINNY: In Centurion, we saw how 5,000 men of the Ninth Legion, led by Titus Flavius Virilus, were 'decimated' by the native tribes of Scotland - and how they lost the Eagle, their golden emblem. This movie picks up the story, circa AD 140, when Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is posted to a British outpost - where he embarks on a personal bid to regain his family honour.
Marcus proves impressive in an earlier battle against the natives but is critically wounded and honourably discharged from service. However, his quest to find the 'Eagle' gets a boost when he learns that the military emblem of Roman power has been seen in the north of Scotland. Accompanied by his British slave Esca (Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot fame), he sets out beyond the famous Hadrian's Wall into enemy territory to reclaim the standard - which is but a piece of metal.
HITS AND MISSES: Under Kevin Macdonald's direction, we are treated to breath-taking scenery (of the undulating hills of Scotland and Hungary) and genuine-looking period pieces, especially of its brutal battle scenes and costumes. The cold and dank atmosphere is best felt during sequences when Marcus and Esca journey to the north - and when they are fleeing from the hill tribesmen.
However, the best part of the movie (and the novel) is the relationship between Marcus and Esca, a slave who swore allegiance to the Roman after being saved in the gladiatorial arena. Macdonald exploits the slave-master ties pretty well although certain parts lack depth. Performance-wise, I have no issues with Tatum and Bell. They do not provide Oscar-quality acting but there is enough chemistry to keep us rooting for them. Donald Sutherland has a small but engaging part as Marcus' uncle who helps him to recuperate from his wounds. Unlike in the Centurion, the make-up of the tribes look rather weird, more like powdered American Red Indians than what I would imagine to be ancient Brits. But then, the make-up serves its purpose - to make the tribesmen look menacing. Incidentally, there are no female roles here and those who look for romantic links will be disappointed.
THE LOWDOWN: Watchable and quite satisfactory.