The Eagle seems to be billed as an action-packed near-thriller. Instead, it is a fairly slow-moving look at how a young man’s idea of honor is tempered by the realities of the world around him. And it’s pretty good, too.
Here’s a trailer:
Released February 11, 2011
Written by Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Rosemary Sutcliff
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, and Denis O’Hare
* * * * *
Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) is determined to win back the honor lost by his father. His father was the leader of the Ninth legion of the Roman Empire, whose standard was a golden eagle, and which legion was completely lost/destroyed somewhere north of Hadrian’s wall.
That’s right: the year is 140 AD and Rome runs most of the world.
So Marcus has risen in the ranks of centurions and has just received a new commission in Britain, where he is in charge of a garrison and its fort. He leads his men in an impressive rout of attacking natives, being badly injured in the process. Due to the injury, Marcus has the opportunity to travel north and find the lost eagle standard, whereupon he would win back the honor to his family name. He convinces his uncle (Sutherland) to let him go, and that his slave, Esca (Bell), will not stab him on the journey.
So Marcus and Esca head north, with Esca having pledged his honor to Marcus due to a debt Esca feels he owes. Adventures ensue as Marcus has his ideas about honor challenged and he starts to find reason to break from the Roman party line regarding how honor is won. At the same time, the relationship between Esca and Marcus is explored as duty gives way to respect and friendship.
The Eagle is, again, not an action-packed thrill ride. It’s also not too concerned with accents, accuracy, and geography. But this film gets a few things right.
First off, the writing and direction allows for extended, character-building scenes, wherein multiple conflicts help the audience see what the characters are truly made of. Furthermore, there are some solid surprises that come from characters’ decisions and there are plenty of opportunities for characters to redeem themselves.
Secondly, the movie is well cast. Given that the film is not really a dramatic actioner but is instead a sometimes dramatic, sometimes stolid, sometimes tense, exploration of friendship and honor and loyalty, it is nice that the actors are young and can convincingly demonstrate a real arc. This arc shows the young men going from somewhat naive to a more grounded outlook on life.
The film is also beautifully shot and very well paced. The Eagle might not satisfy action film fans’ bloodlust and desire for colorful explosions, but it delivers an almost gentle resolution for Marcus, wherein he realizes his life is his own to live and honor is an every day thing.
Issues that don’t allow The Eagle to truly take off include a somewhat stolid pace and not quite enough effort from Tatum. It’s kind of slow at times and Tatum is very serious here. It might have been nice to explore a little more humor.
Content warnings: Some somewhat bloody violence.
Writing: 4 Acting: 3.5 Overall: 3.5
Fly like an eagle to your social networks and share this review, wouldja? This will bring honor to all of us.