Friday 1 April 2011


(Kevin MacDonald, 2011)

This is Boys Own material done right; sober, intelligent and full of action, but with enough emotional weight to give its last act showdowns and reversals real sting. A handsome, rousingly old-fashioned sword & sandal Epic, MacDonald's film follows a Roman Centurion and his Briton slave over Hadrians Wall and out of the known world into Scotland in search of the Standard of the infamous "lost" Ninth Legion.
It plays much like a Cavalry Western, with the Painted Warriors of the "Seal People" standing in for American Indians, and indulges in much relatively subtle point-making on Colonial Imperialism and Occupation.
Based on Rosemary Sutcliffe's classic Childrens Novel, The Eagle manages to be both epic - in the sense that Anthony Mann would have understood - and intimate. MacDonald avoids the b-movie carnage of recent similar material (Centurion or Ironclad, for instance) and focuses instead on immersion, meaning that his film, which also eschews any modishly ostentatious production design, is full of interesting and vivid textures which suggest what life in Roman times might actually have felt like. In that sensuality the Epic it most reminded me of is Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans.
There are also buddy movie moments here in the somewhat homo-erotic relationship between the principles played by Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, both of whom acquit themselves reasonably well. The real star however is Anthony Dod Mantle, whose cinematography is stunning; evocative, lovely and raggedly gritty when it needs to be. Director MacDonald is becoming something of a high-quality craftsman; after the early documentary triumphs he experienced with One Day In September and the transcendent Touching the Void, nowadays you can expect an entertaining and beautifully-made film from him on each occasion, whatever the genre.

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