28 March 2011


It's coming up on a year since I saw Neil Marshall's Centurion, at a 10.55pm screening in the week after it was released. I vividly remember it had been a long day and I was tired, but also that Marshall's film kept me rapt for the entire time it was on, with its absolutely breathless forward thrust. I remember it especially vividly now, in the week that I fell asleep at a 3.25pm screening of The Eagle.

Covering the Ninth Legion once again, but picking up several years after the failed mission into Northern Britain, Marcus Aquila is a young and strong-willed Roman soldier whose father was the commander of the doomed Ninth Legion. After Marcus is injured in battle and discharged from the army, he decides to mount a mission to retrieve the bronze eagle standard that his father carried, the symbol of his family's pride and honour. With a slave called Esca at his side, he travels beyond Hadrian's Wall, or, as the Romans see it, the end of the world.

Channing Tatum currently has an immunity with me, for making the execrable depths of The Dilemma bearable with some unexpected laughs. That immunity was sorely tested by The Eagle, in which he is woefully miscast. He has always had the right build to play military men, so that's fine, but casting him as a Roman soldier is tantamount to casting Chris Tucker as Martin Luther King. He's the most American Roman you have ever heard, and it's all the worse because you can tell he's trying to conceal his accent.

Worse still, the filmmakers opt for the Valkyrie approach of scrambling the more talented supporting cast to indulge the less talented lead by trying to match whatever the hell his voice is doing. Donald Sutherland just seems to go for what Star Wars fans might call "Coruscanti" and poor Mark Strong is left doing a vaguely American drawl when his native accent sounds far more like a Roman than Tatum does. Jamie Bell doesn't try to match Tatum's voice, but I'll forgive the occasional snifters of South African I got from him for the fact that he's a much better actor.

It's all the more disappointing to me because the director on this one is Kevin McDonald, who made The Last King of Scotland and the surprisingly good remake of State of Play. On his first run at what feels like a studio action movie, he doesn't show much of an aptitude for good action scenes, barring the first battle sequence of the film. Eventually, it comes down to the most boring "high-stakes" climactic battle in recent memory. Yes, weaker than even Battle Los Angeles, and it's all thanks to the poor camera-work in the vast majority of the fight scenes.

Let's go back to Centurion for a minute. I liked the way that Marshall used the group dynamic of a bunch of squaddies to relate the audience to Roman soldiers. The relation here is between Americans and Romans, with less-than-subtle allusions made to Rome's hegemony over their known world being similar to America's modern hegemony. Oh, and in case you didn't know, the mission here is to get the eagle back. Everybody got that?

If you hadn't gotten that part, the film itself will do enough to drum it into your skull. The relationship between Tatum and Bell, Marcus and Esca, master and slave is more than a little homoerotic. There's nothing wrong with that, except that I really don't think it was intentional, seeing as how the two have the chemistry of water and Fanta whenever they're not hacking at stuff with swords. The main topic of discussion in those down times? The eagle, and how they need to get it back. Just in case, like me, you're being driven to sleep.

I had more than my fill of The Eagle whether I was awake or not. It has a lot of bluster, but it ultimately makes history boring. And it's adapted from an interesting book, by Rosemary Sutcliffe, so where all of that interesting stuff went, I don't know. Probably down a big hole while chasing after Channing Tatum, who's rubbish in his role as one half of a miscalculated bromance. It's Bourne-ified and yet old fashioned, and bloodless when it should be grand and epic, and it's one of those films for which I really don't have any particular anger or annoyance, just disappointment and resignation.

The Eagle is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Eagle, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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