on 16 March 2011
As a film fan and an amateur student of ancient history, I was quite prepared for this movie to be irritatingly facile and bear no relation to actual events.
But this is a quality film - historically on the money (with one or two very small exceptions), decent screenplay, good lead performances (especially Jamie Bell), fantastic photography, and very effective celtic mood music.
I was even moved to tears here and there. If you liked Apocalypto, Valhalla Rising and Gladiator, you will like this. There are plenty of action sequences but without gratuitous gore but it also has the emotional tug that films for grown-ups should have.
A Roman bromance with echoes of The Defiant Ones - definitely worth an airing.
on 11 April 2013
I enjoyed this DVD, bought from Amazon UK. And I think most reviewers have been a bit harsh in their ratings. Its gritty, hard edged but thankfully missing the wanton gore of its contemporary movies without missing the violence and harsh barbarian reality of the time in which the movie is framed.
The message is clearly projected.... the corruption, arrogance and deceit of politicians is there much the same as it is the world over today- looking down on honest folk who through their decency keep the human world from decending into the primordial sludge we are said to have come from.
And the bond between father and son, wanting to believe the best of the man who took 5000 Centurions into Caledonia never to be seen again- the deep rooted worry that there might have been thruth in the rumour spread by politicians of cowardice and family dishonour- which of course, you have to see the DVD to find out the truth about the Golden Eagle- the symbol of Rome and its civilisation.
The young man Marcus puts aside his prejudice towards the "inferior" Brit slave, as he grows to find that he is more honourable and trustworthy than some of his own Roman kind.... indeed, a solid story centering on the bond that develops between these two people who come from very different backgrounds.
A decent human story with universal appeal which makes you want to shout out and cheer when "the good guys" get it right.
Buy the DVD, its worth every penny.
This is an adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's novel of the mysterious disappearance of Rome's ninth legion north of Hadrian's Wall. I have not seen similar films based on the same premiss about the lost ninth legion in Roman Britain, such as `Centurion' (2010), and (less so) `The Last Legion' (2007), but `The Eagle' is certainly not as "hideously violent" as the former.
It's a fine yarn, told relatively well, based around the relationship between ex-military commander Marcus (Channing Tatum) and the slave he saves from death in a gladiatorial contest, Esca (Jamie Bell). (Surprisingly, the director admits to not knowing why Marcus saves Esca: perhaps there was some homo-erotic subtext?) Together they form a team that goes north of Hadrian's Wall to try and locate and bring back the eagle-standard of the lost legion that had been led by Marcus's father at the time of its disappearance.
I am glad to say that attention was maintained by this reviewer and his partner throughout the film, and the actors give committed performances. This is certainly not a bad film. There is a problem, though, with the last fight: suddenly, there appear to be twice as many old legionaries as turned up five minutes before. And for a man as truly exhausted at the end as Marcus must have been, one wonders whence he obtained his energy for the final fight, and equally, whence he obtained his sword!
References to Rosemary Sutcliff's novel are few and far between in the director's commentary, although he admits elsewhere that he loved the book as a child. Indeed, there is no information on why the title `The Eagle' was chosen instead of that of Sutcliff's original novel. (Was it because the studio feared American audiences would think this was a ninth instalment of a film series?) There is also precious little about the background to the film's production or how he personally became involved.
From Macdonald's commentary we do learn, however, that the scenes set south of the border were filmed in Hungary, but the Scottish shots are genuine: indeed, some were from places in which he grew up. He also states that they tried to be as authentic as possible in terms of the layouts of the Roman fort, and of the villa at Calleva (Silchester) in southern England, even to the extent of having little light in the interiors of the Roman rooms. The army manoeuvres and their clothing were also as authentic as possible. (The historical adviser to the film was the respected Roman historian and archaeologist Lindsay Allason-Jones.)
However, the production's striving for realism has the Picts speaking Gaelic and not the Brythonic version of Celtic. Perhaps the production feared the viewers would be confused by Picts speaking Welsh. (I know there is an argument that asserts the original inhabitants of Argyll were Q-Celtic speakers, but that would certainly not have been the case for poor Esca of the Brigantes.) As for the look of the Picts, Macdonald admits that he relied on the writings of Tacitus. It is also fanciful, of course, to depict that just one step north of the wall would mean a Roman was in hostile territory. But I guess these are the minor niggles of a pedant.
And yet Scotland is here also sometimes depicted as something out of `The Lord of the Rings' rather than the complex Iron Age community - or communities - it was, but I guess Hollywood would not care so much for this kind of authenticity, post-Vietnam. (I suppose we should at least be thankful that Hollywood did not insist on the introduction of a love interest.) Nor does Macdonald refer to obvious parallels in cross-cultural relations between the Romans and the present-day United States.
Other extras on my disc include an alternative ending that sees the legion's golden eagle added to the funeral pyre instead of it being taken back to Britannia below the wall, thus raising the possibility of a sequel. There is also six minutes worth of deleted scenes, and a twelve-minute `Making of' featurette.
on 25 March 2011
Have been an avid reader of Rosemary Sutcliff for many a year, so was interested in how the film would convey the broad themes. It starts off well, but then starts to lose momentum, mainly because the lead character appears to be an action man type and not much else. Jamie Bell as Esca is better at conveying a personality. The American accents are not too much of an irritant (one character even uses the word "Autumn"!) and at least we were spared words like awesome. There are some significant divergences from the book, for example I don't recall RS bringing in a Custer-style last stand from the survivors of the 9th, and the female role of Cotta is not brought in at all. The film's been called a bromance and I can see why, as there are no female roles of any note whatsoever. The battle/conflict scenes are shot in a blurred motion way that emphasises the chaos but loses the clarity and I don't understand how they get away with it in the last fight, as the opposing numbers seem too great; I can only assume that the death of the leader is the cause for the others to leg it, but it's not made clear at all.
In summary, not bad at all, but it didn't quite light my fire, whereas the book still does, even after all these years. The scenery however is magnificent and some of the music is very good as well. Worth buying when it's in the car-boot sale/Tesco sale price bracket, but read the book anyway - it's a cracking tale.
Having its release pushed back to avoid Centurion and its title changed from The Eagle of the Ninth because someone in market research thought it sounded like a golf picture, Kevin MacDonald's The Eagle didn't find much luck at the box-office, which is a shame because this adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's much-loved Roman novel is a terrific and almost entirely satisfy old-school adventure story. Channing Tatum is the centurion who asks for a post at the very edge of the empire on the Scottish border in hopes of covering his family name with so much honor and glory it'll drown out the shame that has attached itself to it since his father led the Ninth Legion to an unknown fate north of what would become Hadrian's Wall. Despite getting off to a good start by winning over his men and saving his fortress from attack not once but twice, his career is over almost as soon as its begun when he is invalided out of the legion. Recuperating at his uncle Donald Sutherland's villa where he saves the life of a British slave (Jamie Bell), he sees a chance to challenge fate and redeem the family's honor when rumors start that the Eagle standard of the Ninth Legion have been seen beyond the wall...
Andrew MacDonald's film is very much a classic old-fashioned adventure film seen through modern eyes but managing to avoid many of the clichés of the genre, old and new. It reverses the classic casting approach by almost entirely using American actors instead of British ones for the Romans (with the exception of Mark Strong's Dennis Hopper-like legionary gone native), a conceit which works surprisingly well. Aside from a misjudged shot of a ranting druid and a brief fight with some rogue warriors it avoids the excesses of shakeycam and overediting for a smoother visual approach to the action scenes, the desaturated photography managing to turn the Hungarian and Scottish locations into something that looks almost like a lost world while just managing to avoid the tiresome orange and teal visual clichés of most modern action films. There's even a nicely imaginative use of sound in the climax when the sounds of the final battle are reduced not to the usual silence and soaring orchestral chords but those of the two central combatants in a sequence where the audio briefly becomes more impressive than the visuals. Much of the big action is at the front of the picture, slightly unbalancing it for those hoping for the kind of big action movie it seems to start out as, the scale shrinking as the focus narrows and the landscape conversely expands, but it never feels like its dragging its heels or padding things out.
The film initially manages to give a good sense of how the ancient Roman world worked without letting the details get in the way of the story before plunging into the dark savage world beyond the wall, where hard country breeds harsh tribes with more in common with Native Americans than the usual righteous oppressed locals fighting the empire for their freedom. Indeed, when the hero and his slave go on the run pursued by the relentless Mohican-like Seal People, you could easily be watching a Western. Yet even here the film manages to avoid falling into easy good guy-bad guy stereotyping, with Tahir Rahim excellent as their relentless nemesis, managing to create a believable and human character despite having little to work with. Nor does the film opt for an easy hero/villain position on Rome itself, choosing to stake its colors on heroism and courage on either side. Those expecting an epic or a relentless action movie may be disappointed, but as a large-scale old-fashioned adventure, all in all it's rather terrific.
The UK Blu-ray offers a decent 2.40:1 widescreen transfer, director's commentary, a perhaps slightly better alternate ending that gives the Eagle itself more value than the one finally used, a couple of deleted scenes (one explaining why Douglas Henshall gets prominent billing for just a couple of shots as a charioteer who Tatum kills: the rest of his part never made the final cut), a featurette and a more substantial 48-minute making of documentary that doesn't seem to have made the US release.
on 3 September 2015
From King of Scotland to conquerors of Britain...
A good, solid, tough story of honor, peril and courage.
One of the few contemporary films set back in that era which does not just focus on mere imitation of old hollywood blockbusters and tries to give it a realistic look and even a political/existential sense.
Kevin McDonald is a very good director (State of Play, Last King of Scotland, Black Sea) and able to comfortably direct different kind of films and genre.
There is always something bitter and angry in his stories which makes them not common and predictable even if they belong to some very codified and classic genre.
on 9 February 2014
You'll have to look very hard to find a better historical action adventure film than this one. The storytelling is as detailed as it is excellent. It's clear so much time and care has been taken to give this film the feeling of historic accuracy in the Roman part of the story. I've lived in Italy, been to Pompeii several times, I've walked the whole of Hadrian's Wall and seen what's left of the wall, the forts and gates facing out into the barbarian world beyond. This film made those places came alive for me. And the Scottish locations are breathtaking. This film is FIVE STARS. End of.
on 11 December 2013
Initially this starts out as a valid adaptation of the book, "Eagle of the Ninth", abbreviating as necessary but once the quest for the eagle, the symbol of the lost legion, starts this film makes a nonsense of the book. The deception devised in the book to enable the hero to travel unmolested through the territory controlled by the savage tribal enemies of Rome is omitted, removing any hope of believability in what follows. The bare mechanics left of the book's plot become cluttered with a series of gory set pieces. The suspense and tension described in the book of the return back to the safety of Hadrian' s wall is lost.
So disappointing that I would hope for another attempt to be made to transfer the book to screen with a better and more realistic screenplay.
on 4 November 2013
It always puzzles me when film-makers buy the rights to a book which they presumably consider to be a masterpiece and then change the story; not simply adapt the book for filming but significantly change the plot, the action and the motivations of the characters.
That is what has been done in this film, which is loosely based on Rosemary Sutcliff's book "The Eagle of the Ninth". Perhaps the fact that the film is entitled simply "The Eagle" is a confession that the screenplay has done violence to the book.
It is not as if the changes are improvements. Marcus and Esca set off in search of the lost Eagle of the Ninth Legion. Only when they are north of Hadrian's Wall does Esca (who is a Briton) say to Roman Marcus, "Let me do the talking." Did they really set off with so little forethought? No. In the book, Marcus goes north in the guise of an oculist, which gives him an entree to, and respect from, all the tribes they encounter. Marcus has no need to pretend to be Esca's slave. It is a much better scheme than the film's improvisation. Also in the book, Marcus gives Esca his freedom before they go north, so that they go on the quest as friends.
I suppose this is a good enough film but my advice is to read the book.
on 2 February 2013
I've read the book, and I love the book. There are so many creases in the spine it's unbelievable. So when I started to watch the movie I did so with some trepidation. About a third in it becomes clear that they've chosen to leave out a few characters some might think of as key - but then you come to realise WHY, and from a writer's perspective this makes sense. Some books can't be translated DIRECTLY to screen; doesn't have the right pace, not enough twists to engrose an audience in the same way emotional detail in a book would. So their twist, I approve of. If you're a total, immovable booky and can't bear to see anything changed, then perhaps you won't like it. But for a movie, it WORKS.
I was also more than a tad nervous about their representation of Roman Briton and the tribes, as there's been a few... notable, let's say, exceptions in movies where they haven't QUITE got it right - but this, this was stunning. Esca could have done with a few more woad tattoos, in my personal opinion, but then I like the whole idea of the blue swirls and that's how I'd pictured him. But the sense of fear, the mysticism of the tribes of the north, their rituals, clothing, housing - their ferocity, their fury, their endurance - I mean, there was a REASON the Romans built a wall to keep them away! The hairstyles of the Seal tribe gave me a bit of a shock, but I guess it can be accepted, and definitely adds to the whole fear aspect.
Also, the aesthetic beauty of the movie made me drool. And the music. I'm still listening to the music right now, actually. So good, so very, very good. The acting wasn't first class but you CERTAINLY get a sense of the comradery between the two main characters. I've seen the word 'bromance' chucked around to describe it, and yeah that sounds about right. Though extra kudos for Jamie Bell, of the two he definitely stole the show.
To be quite honest, if you're a rom com type person, it probably won't suit you. But if you like things like Gladiator, if you liked the characters in the book, if you like quest plotlines, or just interested in this era of history, things like that, then yeah, I'd definitely recommend this for you.