114 minutes

If there can be such a thing as a revisionist western, then why not a revisionist swords & sandals epic? That, at least, seems to be the rationale behind Kevin Macdonald's dour, moody adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's mid-fifties Boy's Own adventure novel about a young Roman soldier (American beefcake Channing Tatum) who ventures into Northern Britannia to restore honour to his family name by finding the long lost standard of the legion his father commanded into oblivion. What mr. Macdonald, known for his award-winning documentaries and his acclaimed debut fiction The Last King of Scotland, does with it is hardly anyone's description of a commercial property, its hyper-serious, virile tone and deliberately slow-paced rhythm suggesting he's aiming at more than just mid-range thrills.
     But what makes it intriguing is just how much the director and his screenwriter, Jeremy Brock (also a writer on The Last King of Scotland), stretch the film's genre boundaries while trying to maintain a high-wire uniformity of tone. What starts out as a junior Gladiator shifts into a lyrical, ersatz western (cavalry to the rescue and all) coloured by a survivalist drama feel. There is no denying mr. Macdonald's pitch-perfect feel for period, atmosphere and location, much helped by Anthony Dod Mantle's widescreen lensing (golden hued and luminous for Rome, crisp and gloomily oppressive for the outdoors). But The Eagle's figures-in-a-landscape ambitions almost suffocate a plot that hasn't been stylized enough to support it.
     It's obviously a much more personal endeavour than the director's previous Hollywood-endorsed State of Play, and has a sensual, strong flair for its story, but it lacks the cohesion and coherence that could make it a stronger, more adventurous film.

Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell; Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim, Denis O'Hare, Dakin Matthews, Douglas Henshall.
     Directed by Kevin Macdonald; produced by Duncan Kenworthy; screenplay by Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth; music by Atli Orvarsson; director of photography (colour by DeLuxe, widescreen), Anthony Dod Mantle; production designer, Michael Carlin; costume designer, Michael O'Connor; film editor, Justine Wright.
     A Focus Features/Filmfour presentation/production, produced in association with Twins Financing. (US distributor, Focus Features. World sales, Focus Features International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 9 (Lisbon), June 2nd 2011. 


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