Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Ancient Rome has a certain allure for modern audiences: a barbaric time in which a brutal empire gained control of much of the known world. Then too, there are its mysteries... like, what happened to the Ninth Legion? It entered Britain and was never heard from again.
For twenty years, Romans have speculated on this mystery. But for one young man, Marcus (Channing Tatum), it merely brings shame, for his father was the leader of the Ninth. Five thousand men disappeared, along with the golden standard, the Eagle of Rome. Determined to reclaim the family honor, Marcus strives to be the best soldier he can be. His military tactics are brilliant, his courage undisputed, but when an injury earns him an honorable discharge, he is devastated. During a gladiator game, he sees another man with courage and valor, a slave named Esca (Jamie Bell), who refuses to fight but whose life is spared when Marcus changes the energy of the crowd.
Esca is given to him as a present by Marcus' uncle (Donald Sutherland), and when Marcus comes up with a plan to go beyond the great wall in the north and reclaim the eagle, the slave is the only one willing to accompany him. Can they find out what really happened to his father's legion? Can he trust Esca in the boy's homeland?
Overall, this is a solid film. It isn't a masterpiece but nor does it fail what it sets out to do: tell a good story. Throughout, our attention is focused on the extraordinary friendship of two men from far different backgrounds, who have every reason to hate one another. Yet, once Esca pledges his life in a debt to Marcus, through thick and thin, battles and misunderstandings, horrific revelations and startling discoveries, they form a bond that carries them through to the end. The cast is quite good, particularly Bell as the ambiguous Esca. The grit and dirt of Rome is contrasted with the sprawling landscapes of the north and the brutality of the native Celtic tribes. There are moments of quiet impact and sorrow, and while I don't like all the choices the director made (sometimes the dreams/flashbacks are sporadic and melodramatic), there are some good moments.
For those who enjoyed the novel on which this was based, or simply are curious about Roman history, it provides a reasonable explanation for the disappearance of the Ninth. It doesn't have much in the way of Roman life or politics, but the fighting sequences and other interactions with the native tribes are very authentic to the period.
Mild insults and profanities.
Men are shot with arrows and stabbed with swords. Blood sprays. One man's foot is cut off in battle. Two children are killed (out-of-shot or distant shots).
A horse collapses out of exhaustion. We see a man flinging the guts out of a dead boar. A man skins a dead rat and eats it raw.