The soldiers of Rome’s fabled Ninth Legion may have disappeared nearly two millennia ago but Hollywood’s fascination with them remains. The Eagle directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) is the second mid-budget action flick to involve the Ninth in as many years the first being Centurion a hack-and-slash B-movie from genre director Neil Marshall.
In comparison to Marshall’s film The Eagle is a bit classier in tone and considerably milder in content perhaps out of deference to its source material Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth a children's novel regarded by many as a classic. That little demographic detail might help explain Macdonald’s someone odd decision to cast Channing Tatum star of Step Up and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in the lead role of a second-century Roman Centurion. Tatum has played soldiers of various stripes before but never a commander and never in an earnest period piece like The Eagle; he fits the suit nicely but I fear he might be in over his head otherwise.
As the film is set in the year AD 140. 20 years prior the 5 000-strong Ninth Legion marched into Northern Britain under the leadership of a general named Flavius Aquila and never returned. Flavius’s son Marcus Aquila (Tatum) arrives at a remote outpost on the island determined to restore his family’s good name via feats of gallantry on the battlefield. He seems well on his way toward doing so too until an ill-fated encounter with an enemy chariot leaves him nearly crippled and he is declared unfit for further service.
While recuperating from his wounds Marcus receives word that the golden Eagle of the Ninth the lost legion’s official emblem has been seen in the hands of the Seal People one of several savage native tribes that roam the wilderness beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Attempting to recover this potent symbol of Rome’s glory might be a virtual suicide mission Marcus reasons but it might also be his only chance to remove the taint that his father’s ignominious defeat left upon his family’s reputation.
And so he endeavors to find it bringing along his British slave Esca (Jamie Bell) a former prisoner of war whose well-groomed mane suggests that his Roman captors were not so cruel as to deny him access to conditioner and a blow-dryer. He seethes with resentment toward Marcus whose Centurion predecessors pillaged his tribe just a few years prior but he is nonetheless bound by honor to serve him after being spared from the gladiator’s blade through Marcus’s intervention.
The thrust of the film is Marcus’s relationship with Esca which begins as a prickly culture-clash but gradually evolves into a sincere brotherly bond forged by various skirmishes with local warriors amidst the cold and forbidding landscape of Caledonia (now Scotland). You’ll find very little indication of this in The Eagle’s opening act however. Macdonald devotes the first 25 minutes or so to setting up an entirely different film – a more conventional sword-and-sandals tale of an undermanned garrison fending off barbarian sieges -- before resetting the narrative and fixing on the bromantic angle that carries it through to the closing credits.
The prolonged dual set-ups disrupt the natural action-movie rhythm and The Eagle enters a somnolent phase at a point when it feels as if it should be building momentum. The lull gives us far too much time to contemplate Tatum’s shifting accent which sometimes resembles an Irish brogue other times a more contemporary Southern-American-Meathead intonation. For whatever reason Macdonald either didn’t notice the inconsistency or didn’t consider it germane to the film’s proceedings. It’s a shame because it pierces the layer of authenticity that the director so carefully – and convincingly – labors to create. If this is second-century Britain what's that kid from Alabama doing here?
Milestone haircuts worked for Mia Farrow (see: "Rosemary's Baby") and Gwyneth Paltrow (see: "Sliding Doors"). But chopping off one's long locks did nothing for Keri Russell, star of the WB's "Felicity."
In fact, according to a network exec, the cut hurt the fledgling series, which won raves -- and a Golden Globe for Russell - in its first season. WB entertainment chief Susanne Daniels told reporters Monday that the reaction to Russell's crop top was "so overwhelmingly negative" that it hurt the show, which arguably was already suffering from creative drought. But Daniels won't dismiss the hair's factor in the downtrend. And just to play it safe, she says, "Nobody is cutting their hair again."
The 23-year-old Russell reportedly got tired of the long, corkscrew mane that became synonymous with her identity (and that of her show's lead character, Felicity Porter) and took to the barber, which resulted in a look so dramatic it warranted an episode of its own in the second season.
HOW TO WOO WOODY: In a new tell-all bio, "The Unruly Life of Woody Allen," out next month, we learn that the 64-year-old writer-director was roped into the relationship with his then-lover's adopted daughter.
Or so says author Marion Meade who writes that the young Soon-Yi Previn peppered Allen with questions about basketball and homework whenever he visited then-flame Mia Farrow. Allen, flattered by Soon-Yi's attentions, invited her to New York Knicks games, and she soon began to sneak out to visit him after classes in her high school uniform.
Also key to the capture, according to the tome, was Soon-Yi's biting remarks about mother Farrow, whom she regularly criticized, describing her as "no Mother Teresa." When Farrow finally discovered the affair, Soon-Yi threatened suicide, then gloated to Farrow that, "The person sleeping with the person is the one having the relationship," which spurred a physical fight between the two women.
"She shrewdly studied Mia's life and -- confident that a woman could win her heart's desire by aggressively pursuing older, successful men -- would soon emulate it," Meade writes.
NO PUFFY, EITHER: While country superstar Garth Brooks showed up to receive three American Music Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Monday night, nominee (and scheduled performer) Jennifer Lopez was a conspicuous no-show.
Host Norm MacDonald took the opportunity to take a couple shots at the M.I.A. actress-singer, commenting on her recent run-in with the law over boyfriend Sean "Puffy" Combs, as well as noting that an extra seat-filler was needed to, um, fill in for Lopez -- and her widely discussed derriere.
OBITUARIES: Benjamin "Ben" Masselink, who wrote and produced episodes of "Hawaii Five-O," "Marcus Welby, M.D." and "Starsky and Hutch," died Thursday of prostate cancer. He was 80. ...
James Card, a film preservationist who co-founded the Telluride Film Festival, died Sunday at age 84 after a lengthy illness. ...
John Newland, host of television's "Alcoa Presents" (1959-61) (later known as "One Step Beyond"), died Jan. 10 at age 82. Newland also directed TV movies and series, including "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Wonder Woman" and "Fantasy Island."
QUICK TAKES: Filmmaker Anthony Minghella, Golden Globe nominee for "The Talented Mr. Ripley," has been named Director of the Year by the National Association of Theater Owners. He'll be presented with the award at the group's annual ShoWest convention March 6-9. ...
Talk-show host Marie Osmond has confirmed her separation from Brian Blosil, her husband of 13 years. In a statement released Monday by her publicist, Osmond says the split was amicable and hopes "the media will respect our privacy during this period of our lives." No other details were released.