Frequent weepy man candy Channing Tatum tries to up his action movie cred with this swords and sandals thriller set behind enemy lines in Roman era Britain.
Based on the 1954 historical fiction novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, it returns to the myth of the Ninth Legion – said to have disappeared without a trace in the early years of the 2nd Century. The plot concerns a young man named Marcus Aquila (Tatum) who arrives at the front 20 years after the disappearance of the Legion to look for his father. Against the advice of his commanding officer (Donald Sutherland) he heads out beyond Hadrian’s Wall with only a native slave (Bell) in tow to reclaim the eagle standard which is a symbol of the Roman Empire and of his father’s failure.
Following on the heels of Neil Marshall’s disappointing Centurion, The Eagle is set to be a considerably less bloodthirsty affair, focussing more on delivering a rousing adventure with as much period detail as possible. It’s the latest from director Kevin MacDonald – who won an Oscar for docu-drama Touching the Void back in 2004 and has been doing solid work since with The Last King of Scotland and the underrated State of Play. The Eagle is his most commercial project to date and while he’s yet to prove himself as an action director, we pretty much have blind faith in anyone who is related to the movie legend that was Emeric Pressburger. Who was his granddaddy, by the way.
Casting holds few surprises, Tatum’s star is on the rise and Bell gets to play in his native accent – the decision was taken to have the Romans played by Americans, to preserve some deep-rooted colonial outrage. Sutherland lends some class and Mark Strong again turns up in what amounts to little more than a cameo. The photography, by MacDonald and Danny Boyle collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle, looks sumptuous and everything has been designed with an eye for authenticity. Let’s just hope the film lives up to its technical credentials.