The Eagle

Movies, Action and adventure
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The Eagle
It’s hard to think of a homegrown director with a more unpredictable career path than Kevin Macdonald. From documentaries on terrorism, mountaineering and, in 2012, Bob Marley to intense dramas like ‘The Last King of Scotland’ and slick Hollywood fare like ‘State of Play’, Macdonald seems intent on wrongfooting audiences at every turn. He’ll release two wholly contradictory new films in the first half of 2011 alone: ‘Life in a Day’, due in May, is a globetrotting street-level documentary sourced entirely from YouTube clips. But first there’s ‘The Eagle’, a stately Roman-era epic which is nothing less than a John Ford movie in battered sandals, with dashes of Kurosawa and ‘Apocalypse Now’ thrown in for good measure. At times bracingly taut, at others frustratingly flat, but always visually breathtaking, this is the boldest, most unlikely film of Macdonald’s career so far.

The story, adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff’s rip-roaring kids’ novel ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’, follows patriotic Centurion Marcus (Channing Tatum) and his scrappy Celtic slave Esca (Jamie Bell) north of Hadrian’s wall to retrieve the Eagle, the standard of the lost Ninth Legion.
The world they find is untouched by civilisation, a lawless tribal wasteland far from Rome’s comforts.  For 100 minutes, this is near-flawless: the adaptation is smart, the performances are solid and the decision to cast American actors as Roman occupiers is thematically as well as economically astute. Best of all is Anthony Dod Mantle’s breathtaking photography: the Scottish Highlands have never looked so eerily, threateningly beautiful. So it’s frustrating that Macdonald can’t sustain the momentum: in the last act, ‘The Eagle’ simply falls to pieces, abandoning narrative drive in favour of a weak, would-be rousing climactic setpiece, a limp finale to what could have been one of the year’s best British movies.

By: Tom Huddleston

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Cast and crew

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Channing Tatum
Mark Strong
Jamie Bell
Donald Sutherland
Tahar Rahim