In second century Britain, two young men from opposed camps undertake a perilous mission to recover a totemic silver eagle with tactical value. Their late fathers were foes. Now this duo, a slave and his owner, bond on oaths of honor. More than twenty years ago, the Ninth Legion disappeared somewhere far past “the end of the known world” now known as Scotland. Slander of cowardice and surrender taints the legend. The symbol of this Roman occupational force is rumored to surface in the wrong hands. Brandished by Druid insurrectionists, this imperial standard could disgrace and demoralize Romans posted on the frontier. In “The Eagle,” threaded with muddy chases and bloody clashes, Channing Tatum plays Marcus the Centurion and Jamie Bell plays his slave Esca, a local who will play his master’s master once they’re in the land of the “Painted People,” leagues and leagues from Hadrian’s Wall. Jeremy Brock (a co-writer of “The Last King of Scotland” and writer of “Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown”) adapts the 1954 novel “The Eagle of the Ninth” by Rosemary Sutcliff. Her “holy men” who “preach holy war” against “unbelievers” translates into no contemporary echoes, though. The film has unfortunate lines like: “In the Great North beyond the Snowy Mountain there is someone who can tell you what you want to know.” Director Kevin Macdonald (documentaries “One Day in September,” “Touching the Void”) takes all this rather seriously, but spears this classy entertainment in the proverbial sandal with a flip finale (not in the novel) that could cue further exploits for the upright Centurion and his plucky sidekick. With Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim, Lukács Bicskey, Douglas Henshall. 114m. (Bill Stamets)
“The Eagle” opens Friday at Webster Place, City North and other locations.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.