Friday 15 November 2019

Movies: The Eagle **


When Ridley Scott scored an unlikely hit at the turn of the millennium with Gladiator, a new golden age for the epic beckoned.

For years, the vast set-pieces in Greek and Roman dramas had rendered epics economically unfeasible, but Scott proved CGI technology made it possible to recreate films of Spartacus-like grandeur on the cheap. It's odd, therefore, that practically every Roman epic that has appeared since has been either dodgy or downright laughable.

The Eagle starts off sensibly enough, and for a time looks like it's going to turn out to be a thoroughly respectable, if unremarkable, historical yarn. But things go horribly wrong once the action heads north of Hadrian's Wall.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald and based on a 1950s novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle stars Channing Tatum as Marcus Aquila, an ambitious young Roman centurion in Britain in 140AD. Twenty years before, Marcus's father commanded the ill-fated Ninth Legion which disappeared in the far north of Britain, and Marcus wants to recover the legion's lost eagle standard and prove that his father was no coward.

Against all advice, he sets out for the north with only a British slave Esca (Jamie Bell) for company, to face an implacable enemy.

That enemy is a huge part of this film's problems. In The Eagle's early Roman scenes, the drama is helped along by the presence of sturdy character actors like Donald Sutherland and Denis O'Hare, but once in Scotland, things become terminally silly. The Seal tribe looks like a bunch of blue Zulus: they speak dodgy Irish and indulge in embarrassing dances.

These Seal people are impossible to take seriously, and so, as a consequence, is this briefly promising film.

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