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The Eagle - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Eagle
Directing: B
Acting: B-
Writing: C
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

It's easy to be a bit ambivalent about The Eagle, the Roman tale that plays a bit like Heartthrobs in the Mist-meets-Wannabe Gladiator. It can be difficult to take the lead character seriously when he's played by Channing Tatum, star of such recent classics as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Dear John.

Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, a Roman soldier bent on restoring honor to his family name after his father's legion vanished north of Hadrian's Wall -- a defensive wall built by the Romans in northern England as a marker of the end of the known world. (Many remains of this wall, which was real, still exist.) According to this movie, the Romans felt that it was too dangerous to go any further north and none of them could survive. Evidently Marcus's father's disappearance, which also marked the disappearance of a large metal eagle that represented the Roman Empire (hence the title), was a part of this perception.

The thing is, the character doesn't come across as Marcus Aquila so much as Channing Tatum in a tunic. In fact, while it could easily be argued that there is no way to know what kind of accent people would have in 140 AD, it's still a bit distracting that a film set in Britain features Roman occupiers who nearly all speak in modern American accents, yet the natives speak an indecipherable language with subtitles.

The only person with an accent that sounds more natural to the setting is Esca, played by Jamie Bell (previously seen as the stowaway on King Kong; he was also Billy Elliot). Esca is the slave Marcus saves from otherwise certain death in an unfair gladiator fight; his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland) then assigns Esca as Marcus's slave.

All this is after Marcus recuperates from a massive injury sustained during a battle with locals that is actually very well staged and exciting to watch. It proves his prowess as a commander but results in an honorable discharge, shattering his deam of taking a new legion into the north of England to reclaim that eagle. But then Marcus decides it will be easier for him to infiltrate the north undetected if he goes alone -- but with his slave, who speaks the local language.

Esca has sworn "an oath of honor" never to abandon Marcus, due to his having saved his life, and thus develops an intimate bond that borders on homoerotic. (It is interesting to note that there is no romance in this film at all; no female lead, which is one thing that sets it apart. Far too often producers feel the need to tack on a romantic sub-plot to broaden appeal. See Gangs of New York.) Eventually, once they encounter a local tribe in the north and eventually discover the location of the eagle, they are forced to switch roles: Esca is invited as a guest once he claims the Roman is actually his slave.

This does make for a fascinating dynamic, and keeps the film fairly engaging. It's too bad script writer Jeremy Brock (Brideshead Revisited) had to make so much of the dialog ranging from terrible to mediocre. And he does it to the last: the final two lines are so oppressively corny they nearly ruin the entire film. One can only hope the Rosemary Sutcliff novel from which this was adapted was written better.

That said, and aside from a couple of lulls due to forced exposition, The Eagle is well-shot, well-edited, and very well choreographed, so once the action gets underway, it commands attention. This falls well short of the blockbuster it could have been, but it doesn't fail completely. Once you get past those flat American accents it gets easier just to go with it.

(L-R) Channing Tatum, Mark Strong, and Jamie Bell dumb down the legacy of the Roman Empire in The Eagle.

Overall: B-
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