The Eagle

THE EAGLE delivers old-fashioned manly adventure—Ancient Rome variety—with a modern twist: rather than hamstringing the actors with stilted dialogue and windy pronouncements (to make all the expected slaughter feel blessed by The God of Diction) instead it deploys conversational everyday-speak that adds a you-are-there sense to the daring & doing. Thankfully, director Kevin Macdonald and scenarist Jeremy Brock (Charlotte Gray, The Last King of Scotland) don’t resort to dosing us with the hot oil of p.c. offal in between the sword-meets-sternum stuff that decimates supporting players and stunt minions. Romans vs. Celts in the 2nd Century, starring guys named Channing and Jamie? It not only doesn’t suck: it fairly kicks Pict rumpus.

Roman Britannia,149 A.D. In his first command, centurion ‘Marcus Flavius Aquila’ (Channing Tatum) wins the admiration of his initially skeptical men with his skill and bravery during an attack on their isolated garrison. Recovering from his wounds, he sets out to redeem family honor by recovering the eagle standard lost by his father when his command, the Ninth Legion, vanished into the wilderness. Marcus goes beyond Hadrian’s Wall into foreboding tribal regions (the Scottish Highlands) with only a slave named ‘Esca’ (Jamie Bell) as a companion and interpreter. Recovery—health & pride, trust & freedom—becomes paramount to survival.

Based on English author Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel “The Eagle Of The Ninth”, the superbly detailed mini-epic covers some of the same bloody territory as the previous year’s Centurion, and is distinguished by its sweep and intimacy, the production design, gorgeous cinematography—cameraman Anthony Dod Mantle lensing the $25,000,000 recreation in Hungary and Scotland—and an atmospheric score from Atli Örvarsson. One quibble: director MacDonald and editor Justine Wright sometimes cut the action scenes with more edginess than clarity. Tatum and Bell work with commitment, and there are neat supporting roles covered by Donald Sutherland and Mark Strong.

Surprisingly effective adventure made $37,990,000 globally, 118th place in 2011: it deserved more attention than that.

With Tahar Rahim, Denis O’Hare, Ned Dennehy, Dakin Matthews. 114 minutes.

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