Director: Kevin Macdonald
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
The Eagle kicks off slow and slightly boring in the first act but is carried for the next hour and change by the powerful lead performances of Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell and Anthony Dod Mantle’s quite often gorgeous cinematography. That the film drags at both ends is a minor stumble and the battle scenes often leave a bit to be desired but perhaps that is because Kevin MacDonald is relatively inexperienced in action films. The Eagle is a 180 from MacDonald’s last film, the very intriguing State of Play. Where that film dealt in uncovering a dangerous murder cover-up this film is also a mystery but more of an adventure flick and later on a chase movie. Set in Roman times there is a scent of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator among the proceedings.
Adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth the film follows Tatum’s Marquis Flavius Aquila arrival in Roman Britain in 140 A.D. to serve as a garrison commander. The officers he commands speak ill of his inexperience and his father, commander of the Ninth Legion which disappeared 20 years prior in the northern savage lands along with the golden eagle standard, a symbol of Rome’s greatness. After being injured in the line of duty and honorably discharged Marquis rides north with his slave Esca (Bell) to retrieve the eagle and uncover what happened to the Ninth.
I probably should but I generally gives zero shits about historical accuracy. If there is a gripe with any of the acting it is that no one in the film can really seem to maintain an accent for very long, from Tatum sliding in between Roman and American and Bell from his native British accent to an odd Scottish one. The only one who succeeds in this is Mark Strong’s Lucius Caius Metellus who holds an American accent to the end. The acting is all aces but pick a spot and stick with it gentlemen.
While the battle scenes are intense they are a little incoherent sometimes.
This is what you would consider Tatum’s first leading man role and he shoulders it well. Marquis is a young man racked by shame at his father’s role in the eagle’s disappearance. Tatum gets to dig a little deeper later on when his and Bell’s roles are somewhat reversed. Wounded and staggering around in the rain Tatum makes Marquis a man you would want to follow into death. These kinds of men have learned to be cold and merciless, something that Marquis spends the film trying to teach Esca.
Bell is a leading man himself, taking on a good chunk of the film’s third act. Esca is from the north and the things he knows about Marquis are part of the fun. And damn can he run. Remember how I said it becomes a chase movie? That’s all on Bell. He doesn’t get to do a whole lot conversationally but as the film takes some turns you didn’t see coming he assumes command of the film and is arguably better than Tatum.
The two other gentlemen in the film, Strong and Donald Sutherland, don’t have much going on. Strong is there really to give exposition as a legionnaire who fought alongside Marquis’ father and Sutherland is only around to bring Marquis and Esca together. Sutherland chews the scenery as he often does but in a warm and loving capacity as Marquis’ uncle.
Channing Tatum shoulders the film well.
For PG-13 it’s a pretty damn bloody film, a little take no prisoners a la Game of Thrones. A child gets murdered but the why is understandable. Honor is everything in this period and he dishonors his family in a tremendous manner. There are some very fast cannibals running around in sludgy makeup. While the battle scenes are intense they are a little incoherent sometimes and the camera will often flit between two things happening at once without cutting. While this is cool the first time it doesn’t usually work because the camera moves to quickly for you to clearly see what’s happening.
It is all quite lovely to look at though. That Ridley Scott-ness extends to the film’s look, a combination of F.A. Young’s work on Lawrence of Arabia and maybe a touch of the New Zealand seen in The Lord of the Rings. This beauty isn’t apparent until after the duo crosses into the north, where the wide open glens are captured in mist that obscures everything like smoke. Shot mostly in Scotland, the scenes taken around Loch Lomond are particularly stunning with the sun catching the water as Tatum and Bell relax on the loamy green in a village of Seal people (the cannibals). There are those Ridley Scott moments of zooming in on things for no reason but this never really distracts from the film’s visual appeal.