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Review: The Eagle (DVD) – Borrow or Buy?

Friday, 16 September, 2011 2 comments

Three Stars: ***

Some people get Celt, but don’t expect any graphic details

There was once a fortified barrier which extended across the Northern frontier of the Roman Empire. It was called Hadrian’s wall and it was a critical life-line for all Romans. To step north of here meant certain death! And in 120AD, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), a Roman legionnaire, plans to do just that with only the company of Esca, his Briton slave (Jamie Bell).

It is a traditional yarn of heroics and betrayal where a gutsy legionnaire valiantly proceeds against all odds into the heart of darkness, Scotland, in order to return the treasured Eagle of the Ninth, the Standard lost to the barren wilderness and its tribes, by his own father.

The very prospect of wandering into the Highlands in order to steal back something of largely sentimental value from a merciless tribe of Celtic warriors, who paint themselves blue and resemble real-life versions of Avatar’s Na’vi, is a compelling one. Much is said of the ancient feuds between Ancient Scot and Roman occupier, and due to an interest in my own family heritage north of The Wall, this was the main draw for me. However, despite the film’s opening with a gripping battle scene, complete with Boudicca style chariots, I was disappointed to find a distinct lack of the visceral grittiness which made Gladiator and the recent Ironclad visually superb!

While the Celts’ hardcore and insane mentality is conveyed well by the director, Kevin MacDonald, I thought his rendition of the Seal people could have been a bit more fearsome. When lost in a labyrinth of glens filled to the brim with 6ft guerrilla warriors, in a literal all-versus-two scenario, you’d expect there to be a greater sense of despair and terror.

In actual fact, the narrative is true to the form of a Boys’ Own adventure, which is no mistake because this film is an adaptation of a children’s book. As a result the antagonist, the Seal Prince, is simply characterised by dumb anger and confrontation, which denies him much depth as a villain. He is only to be feared because he fights with all his mates by his side. To be fair, a simple character is more fitting for a children’s book and I suppose we cannot expect too much of a monster from a 12A.

Tatum’s American accent occasionally slays the authenticity a little too, though this is rescued by Bell’s own acting, as a Briton playing a Briton. The relationship between the two is what the film is really about and their developments drive the story. Expect some twists and turns in the partnership along the way. While The Eagle has much to offer, it fails to soar to the standards of the historical movie greats which adorn the DVD shelf.

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