|'Quite who occupies the moral high-ground is never entirely made plain, up to the point where Macdonald is forced to include a barbaric act ahead of the final battle, just so you're clear on who to root for.'|
Tension, homo-eroticism and horse-drawn chariots abound in Kevin Macdonald's adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's popular novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, shortened here to just The Eagle, presumably because Hollywood doesn't believe audiences can cope with titles longer than three syllables.
Center-stage in two out of three of those elements (they don't have a whole load to do with the chariots) are leading beefcakes Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, who strike up a relationship based upon long lingering glances at bare chests, a bit of mutually loving bickering and a strong desire to please each other. Macdonald doesn't quite go the whole hog and suggest explicitly that there might be something to their relationship beyond being travel buddies but then, nor does he need to, The Eagle operating quite well on the suggestion that it could well be read as a devoted love story by some.
The tension, not coming from the duo's level of friendship, comes instead from the film's utter inability to fall down on to one side of the other. Esca (Bell) is a slave from the North of England, Marcus (Tatum) is a Roman of some regard. The Northerner's have captured the titular Eagle standard of Marcus' father's regiment and off he goes to get it back. But who here is in the wrong? Marcus is, of course, an occupier, as Esca tells him often, but then Marcus' father was slain brutally by the vicious Northerners. Quite who occupies the moral high-ground is never entirely made plain, up to the point where Macdonald is forced to include a barbaric act ahead of the final battle, just so you're clear on who to root for.
This uncertainty, the failure to favour Roman or Northerner, makes the film something of a narrative minefield, made all the more tricky by a convoluted yet entertaining start, which then begins to lull once the travelogue begins. That opening, rather similar to 2010's Centurion, is arguably more entertaining than anything else the film has to offer, hinting that perhaps The Eagle was at least somewhat flawed from inception.
The Eagle was showing on Sky Anytime, Sky Anytime Plus and Sky Go.
'Where Centurion had a thrust to go with its narrative, The Eagle plods along, serving up some grim realism but nothing truly exciting or gripping' - Desert of the Reel