Copyright MainstreamMatt/Mainstream 2005-2011
Talk about a journey; this adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 Roman saga has suffered at the hands of release schedules and title changes – it was originally known like the novel as The Eagle of the Ninth - an indication of postproduction trouble maybe? Or a studio unsure of how to market this historical bromance in the wake of Robin Hood’s critical pummelling? Both theories are palpable based on the final film, which somehow triumphs against pacing issues and incoherent narrative propulsion to result in solid slice of sword swishing adventure.
The Ninth were a Roman Legion that mysteriously vanished in the highlands of Scotland in 140AD, shaming their ancestors by losing the talismanic Eagle emblem and consigning young Centurion, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) to a career tarnished by the reputation of his father, who had led the ill-fated mission.
Honourably discharged from his command, the opportunity for redemption presents itself when word reaches Marcus that a savage tribe may have the iconic symbol in their possession. So along with his newly acquired British slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), he crosses Hadrian’s Wall, into Caledonia, for a meeting with destiny.
The Eagle is the definition of a mixed bag; the two leads are very good, with Tatum adding further weight to the theory that he is more than just a pretty face; stoic and believable as a son burdened by familial failure. Ably supported by a enthusiastic turn from Bell. The problem arises from the fact there is very little chemistry between the two, there are hints at something that may have existed in an early rough cut but has since been hacked at by an axe-wielding editor. You are never convinced that these men would ultimately die for each other, and their interaction is often a little po-faced. A few jokes wouldn’t have hurt.
Much of this is down to the aforementioned unevenness of the story, an attempt to construct something with momentum for a mainstream audience to the detriment of the characters. The movie jumps from situation to situation without a line of dialogue – this mainly effects that latter half of the movie, frustratingly the opening thirty minutes hints at something which could have been the best historical action flick since Braveheart. At one point our intrepid duo go from an encounter with a barely seen Marc Strong, have an argument, roll down a hill, and then they’re in a completely new environment with a new set of characters. It’s a cartoonish construct that undermines the historical drama of the film.
It remains a solid sword n sandals effort that’s hindered by a soggy middle, bookended by a wonderful premise and an Apocalypto style final reel, but the overriding feeling is one of frustration because you’re certain there is a great film discarded in the edit suite. Roll on the director’s cut.