The Eagle (2011)

Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Written by Jeremy Brock

Academy Award winning director Kevin Macdonald is more reputable as a documentary filmmaker, winning the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for his 1999 film, “One Day in September”, which chronicles the hostage crisis at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He has also received acclaim for “Touching the Void” as well as the fiction film “The Last King of Scotland”, which also netted actor Forest Whitaker an Oscar for his lead performance. Star Channing Tatum is known as a Hollywood heartthrob, the kind whose looks are good enough to trump his questionable acting ability in such films as “Step Up” and “Dear John”. So when the two teamed up for “The Eagle”, something had to give.

“The Eagle”, by all means, is an historical fiction action film. It follows the young Roman centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) as he works toward restoring the honor of his family’s name in the Roman territory of Britain in the 2nd century. Marcus’ father had been the commander of the legendary 9th Legion, which bore the famous Eagle as its standard. So when the 9th and its Eagle were lost forever in Northern Britain when Marcus was just a child, Emperor Hadrian built his wall and the Aquila name was shamed.

Now Marcus is a commander himself, and has chosen Britain as his placement in order to earn back the honor lost by his father as a soldier rather than to retrieve the standard. But when he is wounded in battle, Marcus is discharged from the army, prompting him to set off to find the Eagle as the only way redeem his father. Entering the savage territory of the North, Marcus employs his British slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), to help him survive in a land of people that would like nothing more than to kill a Roman. The two form an unorthodox bond as they search for the famed Eagle, encountering friends and foes alike along the way.

The part of Marcus seems to be a dream role for Tatum. The disciplined soldier is just stone faced and emotionless enough to not make Tatum a distraction on screen. The same, sadly, cannot be said of his fellow cast members. Denis O’Hare and Donald Sutherland feel like they belong in a different movie in a different century. The great exception would be Jamie Bell as the British slave Esca. Bell delivers a solid performance as the British slave seeking the same thing as his Roman master, honor.

Truth be told, the film does not feature as much action as the viewer may expect, but it does include plenty to entertain. However, this does leave plenty of time to develop the story and tell the audience why things are happening, as opposed to just throwing them into the ring of action. Perhaps the best aspect of the film was its look. The filmmakers manage to mesh gritty action sequences with interesting and beautiful shots consisting of great lighting, color and interesting composition, particularly the close-up. It may be a simple narrative, but sometimes those are the best kind. It is straightforward and told with just enough suspense, action, and intrigue to be effective. “The Eagle” is not Macdonald’s best effort, but it is a pleasant surprise of a film.

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