The Eagle, Kevin Macdonald, 114 Mins (12A)
Limitless, Neil Burger, 99 Mins (15)
Wake Wood, David Keating, 90 Mins (18)

All roads lead to Rome... especially if you're garrisoned in fog-bound Britain

There have been a few films lately about Roman soldiers caught behind enemy lines in ancient Britain (Centurion, The Last Legion, King Arthur), but none of them comes close to Kevin Macdonald's The Eagle – for atmosphere and spectacle, at least. Like the same director's Touching the Void, it's about two men being battered by nature at its most unforgiving, and, like The Last King of Scotland, it has someone venturing far out of his depth in an exotic foreign land.

Macdonald's best idea is to show Channing Tatum and his fellow Romans as modern men. Instead of addressing each other with quasi-Shakespearean formality, as movie Romans are wont to do, they chat in American accents (although Tatum sometimes has a stab at an English one), usually complaining about the state of the latrines. They may be the bad guys from a British perspective, but Macdonald lets us see them as homesick infantry stationed in a foggy wilderness surrounded by tattooed hostiles. And as Tatum travels north of Hadrian's Wall in search of the golden standard his father lost in battle 20 years earlier, both the locals and the terrain get stranger and scarier. The Eagle is inspired by Apocalypse Now as much as it is by Spartacus.

The story, though, isn't as impressive as the world Macdonald has created. It may be rip-roaring in the source novel, Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth, but on screen the quest becomes a picturesque though hardly urgent montage of hiking and horse-riding through the Highlands. You can see why it's important to Tatum to retrieve the standard, but the audience is more likely to side with his slave, Jamie Bell, when he remarks that it's just a hunk of metal, and that slaughtering Britons is nothing to be proud of, anyway. By the same token, it's hard to accept these two historic enemies as fast friends. Most Roman centurions in this sub-genre tend to go native, but Tatum is a true-blue Pict-butchering imperialist to the end.

Limitless has such a cracking wish-fulfilment premise that it's hard to know whether to be annoyed or unsurprised that the film itself does not live up to it. It stars Bradley Cooper as a struggling New York writer who is slipped an experimental new wonder drug. When he takes it, he can think more quickly and clearly than anyone else on the planet. A week later, he's polished off his novel, learnt several languages and mastered the piano – and there's a dazzling firework display of psychedelic visual effects to show just how exhilarating his chemically enhanced life has become.

Fun though all of this is, Limitless, like The Adjustment Bureau before it, ignores most of its mind-boggling story possibilities. After wheeling some arbitrary obstacles onstage and off again (the drug's side effects, a mysterious death), it has Cooper working for a Warren Buffett-like tycoon (Robert De Niro) and eluding Russian loan sharks, which is a bit like a Superman film in which he becomes the world's fastest bike messenger. For someone with Cooper's "four-digit IQ", brokering corporate mergers seems like an awfully limited occupation.

The third new film from the revived Hammer studios, Wake Wood is the first that feels like a proper Hammer horror, complete with a remote village, Pagan rituals, and geysers of bright red fake blood. It's also got a spooky, soulful story, even if it's one that Stephen King fans will know already. Eva Birthistle and Aidan Gillen are sympathetic as a couple who hope to bring their daughter back from the dead; Timothy Spall twinkles in the Christopher Lee role of the village squire. Only the cheapo-looking camerawork spoils things – although that, too, is true to its Hammer heritage.

Next Week

Nicholas Barber has a taste of Oranges and Sunshine, the debut film from Jim "son of Ken" Loach

Also Showing: 27/03/11

Country Strong (117 mins, 12A)

Gwyneth Paltrow plays the promiscuous, alcoholic country'n' western megastar we're supposed to feel sorry for in this directionless Nashville melodrama. Tim McGraw is her husband and manager, Garrett Hedlund is her songwriting boyfriend, and Leighton Meester the starlet poised to take her crown – and they're all as self-involved and duplicitous as she is. Hedlund, in particular, is utterly reprehensible, and yet he's presented as the voice of integrity. Weak.

Faster (98 mins, 15)

Turgid Kill Bill rip-off with Dwayne Johnson in the Uma Thurman role, gunning down the low-lives responsible for his brother's death. It gets off to a satisfyingly lurid start, but, considering the title, it's astonishing how slow Faster becomes, as it detours away from Johnson's killing spree time and time again. Do we really need to be told about the childhood illnesses and custody disputes of every minor character? Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino are among those putting the brakes on.

A Turtle's tale: Sammy's Adventures (89 mins, U)

This cartoon for young children boasts some beautifully animated marine wildlife that floats before your eyes in 3D. What it doesn't boast is a story. The narrator (John Hurt) even confesses that the characters do nothing at all for "10 years", which won't wash with Finding Nemo fans. After that, the titular turtle has some very minor skirmishes with fishermen and sharks, but calling any of them "adventures" would be pushing it.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power