Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Eagle

2011 PG-13 116 min. (unrated cut)
The 73rd Virgin says... A pleasant surprise. In 120 AD a Roman legion crosses into northern England and disappears, losing the legion's golden  eagle standard and bringing dishonor to Rome and to the family of its dead commander. 20 years later his son Marcus returns to lead a disheveled and downtrodden cohort of his own. He whips them into shape, performs heroically in a few battles and is badly injured.

There is much to admire here, especially the strange but effective juxtaposition of flat modern language in American English - no one troubles with phony Hollywood British - set in the second century. But it makes sense. There is no reason to substitute high falutin’ British for what would have been frontier Latin, so just let ‘em talk the way soldiers talk. This is especially good for Donald Sutherland as our hero’s uncle. When he fakes an accent in "Pillars of the Earth" or "Pride and Prejudice" he sounds droll and bored. Here he sounds energetic and funny. It works all around.

Also, the action sequences are convincing, especially showing why the Roman infantry ruled the world. Here, they go to the rescue of hostage fellow soldiers.

Since Marcus is now honorably discharged, he has nothing left to do but cross Hadrian’s Wall back into the north and look for the eagle standard that his father lost before. So he takes a slave from the local populous who speaks the language (apparently all the languages) of the northern tribes, and who knows more than he lets on about the fate of the eagle, and off they go.

Channing Tatum as Marcus has a convincing youthful doggedness and believably stubborn Roman pride; even as his entire existence comes down to how much he can trust his slave, Esca, played as rebellious and mysterious, but rigidly honor-bound, by Jamie Bell.

Eventually they find a survivor of the legion's massacre in the ubiquitous form of Mark Strong, last seen riding away from Robin Hood with an arrow through the neck. Even he speaks flat American English as he recounts the gory details and helps clarify Marcus' and Esca's relationship, so to speak.

And eventually they find “The Seal People” who, other than head to toe blue body paint, appear to be Iroquois Indians who happen to speak something like Gaelic. The producers acknowledge that this is a somewhat fanciful addition but it does serve to drive home the bad craziness up north that led Emperor Hadrian to build his wall in the first place.

To a certain extent you find yourself rooting for the Romans even though modern PC would cause you to root for the tribes. It’s a little like rooting for the humans over the Navi or the Nazis over the French resistance. Odd effect.

Anyhow, the battle scenes are well done, the action moves along at a solid pace, the Hungarian and Scottish scenery is very pretty and there is enough tension to keep you engaged. It crosses the line into stupid territory here and there but, unlike Robin Hood, Valhalla Rising, Black Death, etal, it doesn't pitch a tent there. The 13th Warrior comes to mind in terms of engaging well done silliness. I'm pretty sure there are NO speaking parts for women.

The ending lands with the clunk of leaden humor and the alternate ending on the DVD is just as bad. Still this is a pretty enjoyable sword and sandal flick. Three sheep is a little stingy.

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