Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Channing and Jamie head north of the border ...

THE EAGLE, 2011. In 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, young centurion Marcus Aquila arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth. Accompanied only by his British slave Esca, Marcus sets out across Hadrian's Wall into the uncharted highlands of Caledonia - to confront its savage tribes, make peace with his father's memory, and retrieve the lost legion's golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth.

Peplums live! I liked this a lot - an engrossing drama and a great rousing adventure in parts, recalling Mann's LAST OF THE MOHICIANS and less CGI than GLADIATOR or TROY, with that new guy on the block Channing Tatum (MAGIC MIKE opens today here...) being a new take on the Russell Crowe type as he fits in pefectly to this sword-and-sandal era. Jamie Bell too has shaken off his BILLY ELLIOT persona as the tough slave Esca. Together they head into the wilds of Scotland to find out what happened to that Ninth Roman Legion.  The native tribes are stunningly recreated, and it all builds to a rousing climax.  No romantic interest, though the guys get pretty pally, as Esca earns his freedom after Marcus saving his life in the arena - but of course why should he have been a slave in the first place, after the Romans killing his family .... the situation gets reversed when Marcus has to pretend to be Esca's Roman slave to survive when they are surrounded by hostile tribes and have to effect a daring escape.

So, the Romans in Britain - what did they do for us? Well, they built roads and cities, towns and garrisons - I have been to that Roman villa in Sussex with it's mosaics and underfloor heating - and of course they built Hadrian's Wall to keep those northern savages out. Interesting points are made about why should the Romans want to conquer Britain at all - Mark Strong is (once again) terrific here, and there is also Donald Sutherland as Marcus's uncle.  The battle scenes are stirringly staged and it all looks terrific, as directed by Kevin McDonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND). Channing acquits himself well (I thought he should be Tatum Channing when I first heard of him - but he is certainly an addition to the Ryans Gosling and Reynolds, and those other leads - Tom Cruise is 50 after all and Brad can't be too far behind!).
DVD extras have an alternate ending - the one they go with in the film is more upbeat I think for this type of thing, and an interesting 'making-of' shows the hard work and commitment that goes into making a film like this creating a whole new world. It is of course from a popular book, and its admirers seem happy with the end result here. Good music soundtrack as well using a lot of native sounds.. The days of magnificent historical epics may be well over, but something like THE EAGLE will do nicely for now.

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