Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
The Eagle (2011)
Kevin Macdonald’s “The Eagle” is another instance where the trailer made the film look a lot more interesting than it actually was. For those hoping for a “swords and sandals” type film along the lines of the great “Gladiator,” they were surely disappointed. However, even for those who were somehow expecting a slow, character-driven piece, the film ends up lacking far too much to satisfy in that area as well.
As the film opens in 140 AD, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is taking command of his new post in Britain. We learn that he is the son of the famous commander of the Ninth, a squadron that disappeared, along with their golden eagle standard, 20 years earlier up North. Not long after he takes command, the post is attacked and Marcus is injured, causing him to be taken from the area for recovery.
He meets his Uncle (Donald Sutherland) and some friends of his, who bring up the story of Marcus’s father losing the famous standard of the Ninth. Marcus suddenly decides to go looking for the eagle himself to reclaim his family’s honor. Accompanied only by a slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), whose life he saved, he sets out into the dangerous North without even knowing where to begin his search.
“The Eagle” has a number of problems that stopped it from being nearly as good as it could have been. It has an interesting premise in that a son is trying to solve the mystery of what happened to his father’s troops and their standard, but it’s the way in which the filmmakers go about trying to tell that story that gives it the feeling of a film that really isn’t going anywhere at all.
The first act doesn’t really add anything to the film, other than introducing us to the characters and the situation involving Marcus and the standard, so right off, we end up having to wait about 45 minutes for the actual story to get started. However, the sluggish pacing of the first act carries right on into the second act as Marcus and Esca wander about in search of information regarding the eagle making it feel like more of a travelogue than a film.
The pacing of the film actually gets so bad that it feels like it comes to a complete stop when Marcus and Esca run into a tribe that had fought the Ninth 20 years earlier. The characters pretty much stand by and do nothing for about 15 minutes while the audience waits for the story to begin moving again. This is never a good thing for filmmakers to do, especially when they’ve already had them waiting through the first act for the story to start.
The third act is actually the most interesting section of the film as it begins to build up a sense of tension during a climactic chase, though that sense of tension would have meant a lot more if the characters hadn’t been so two-dimensional. Marcus and Esca never develop beyond the point of wanting to find the eagle and return home. This never allows for the audience to emotionally connect with them or to care about their situation right up through the predictable final battle.
The lack of connection with the character of Marcus is partially explained by the one-note performance of Channing Tatum. It’s amazing that such a bland actor, whose films include “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and “Dear John,” continues to find work at all. He keeps the same blank expression on his face throughout these films and is simply not up to the difficult task of expressing emotion when a scene calls for it.
“The Eagle” certainly had potential to be an interesting film. It presents a rather interesting mystery, but for some reason the filmmakers decided to forgo the interesting part and just threw the characters into the exact place they had to be to solve it. It really all comes down to the story. Just like Tatum wasn’t up to the task of bringing the character to life, the filmmakers weren’t up to the task of bringing the story to life, and that makes all the difference. 2/4 stars.