Review: The Eagle
Having proved himself a dab hand at both documentary and drama, director Kevin MacDonald (Touching The Void, The Last King of Scotland) takes his first misstep with this Roman centurion romp.
Channing Tatum is Marcus Flavius Aquila, newly arrived at a fort south of Hadrian's Wall to redress the dishonour of his father who had led the Ninth Legion on an expedition north and been roundly routed by the jocks. He ends up heading north of the wall on a solo mission to try to retrieve the Eagle standard that his father had lost, accompanied only by a British slave, Jamie Bell.
Tatum is generally regarded as a buffed up meathead pretty boy but he is quite an impressive leading man in this. He's not quite Russell Crowe but at least his shoulders are broad enough to carry the weight.
In comparison Bell looks a bit lightweight. Perhaps he would have a wiry tenacity that could get him through the brawls, but overall you suspect even Audley Harrison might feel emboldened to hazard a slap in his direction.
Traditionally the sword and sandals epic was a perfect vehicle for subliminal gay imagery. Think the oysters and snails scene in Spartacus or Gore Vidal slipping in a gay subtext to Ben Hur. Here, despite some doe eyed looks when Marcus first saves Esca from a gladiator's sword we are supposed to believe that Tatum and Bell are linked by nothing more than a bond of trust
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The film heads off any suggestion of it being the bond that dare not speak its name but without that the central relationship makes no sense.
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Really nothing quite adds up here. You never get an idea of what interested MacDonald in the material, though I was grateful that at least is wasn't another Iraq/Afghanistan metaphor.
The major problem is that the budget didn't extend to proper fight scenes. The ones we see pass in a frenetic blur and always seem to be cut short.
The opening suggests gladiator but as it moves on it becomes more like Mel Gibson's Apocaylpto, a journey through pre Christian pagan society.
Watching it I briefly caught myself harking back fondly to the viking film Valhalla Rising which covered the same terrain more evocatively, before remembering that I hadn't actually liked Valhalla Rising and gave it a stinky review.
The Eagle (12A)
Director: Kevin MacDonald
With: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim
Length: 113 mins