Review: The Eagle
PLOT: In Roman-occupied Britain, a Centurion, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), and his Pictish slave (Jamie Bell) travel behind enemy lines to recover the lost Eagle of the Ninth- the emblem of Aquila`s late father`s doomed legion.
REVIEW: THE EAGLE is the second Ninth Legion-centric Roman epic to come out this year, with it following Neil Marshall`s CENTURION. While that film was a tight action flick, centering around the Ninth Legion itself, THE EAGLE aspires to be a somewhat more highbrow film, with this coming from acclaimed director Kevin McDonald.
For what it`s worth, I thought CENTURION was actually a pretty fun flick, although there was certainly room for improvement, with my chief complaint being that the it seemed a bit dumbed down in order to appeal to adolescent boys. I walked into THE EAGLE with high hopes, although it being re-scheduled a bunch of times by Focus Films had me figuring that it wouldn't exactly be another GLADIATOR. Sure enough, it isn't, but it is a reasonably entertaining adventure flick in it`s own right.
Director Kevin McDonald has made a beautiful looking film, with THE EAGLE looking much more expensive than the reported $20 Million budget would suggest. It`s beautifully shot by his LAST KING OF SCOTLAND cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, who`s also shot the last few Danny Boyle films. I also thought the score by Atli Orvarsson was quite effective, without ripping off Hans Zimmer`s GLADIATOR score, which is a trap I find a lot of composers fall into when making these type of period films.
The one area where THE EAGLE really trumps CENTURION is in the location shooting, and the sense of authenticity McDonald gives the film while examining the Pictish tribes that roamed Britain`s countryside in the era. While historians still debate what their actual language sounded like, McDonald has them all speak Gallic, while all the Romans speak American accented English- which is a lot more effective than it sounds.
Probably the best part of having the Roman`s sound like Americans is the fact that star Channing Tatum gets to focus on delivering a compelling performance without affecting an accent. If you've read my reviews of his two recent films, THE DILEMMA, and SON OF NO ONE, you'll note that I've been easing up on Tatum as of late, as he really does seem to be coming along as a performer. That evolution continues here, with him unquestionably giving his best performance to date as Marcus Aquila. Tatum is really quite good here, benefiting from working with a strong director like McDonald.
His character is actually much more complex than I assumed going into the film, as I thought he`d be yet another heroic Roman soldier, with little regard being given to the fact that the Romans themselves were the aggressors in campaigns like this. Happily, I was wrong, and it`s made clear that the Romans are kinda the bad guys here, although the film respects the heroism and honor of most of the centurions. Tatum`s character evolves over the course of the film, with him starting off as a somewhat cold-blooded character, who callously kills a child in battle. Tatum`s very good here, and one must admire how he really seems to be working on being a better actor, and choosing gutsier material.
As good as he is, the show is almost stolen by Jamie Bell. Surely one of the most charismatic young actors in the biz, he`s outstanding as the slave Esca. So good in fact, that I almost wished he was the lead instead of Tatum, with his story of the slave bound by honor to his captor, being somewhat more compelling than that of the centurion looking to restore honor to his family legacy. In fact, my only real complaint about the film centers around Esca, as I found the way they wrapped up his character a tad conventional. More could have been made of his character`s inner turmoil at betraying his own people to serve his master.
My other problem with the film is that it takes a little too long for Aquilla and Esca to get started on their journey. Too much time is spent on Aquilla's short-lived stint as the commander of the local legion. Once he's wounded in battle, an awful long time is spent on his recuperation at his uncle's home with the wizened old-timer being played by the great Donald Sutherland. The whole first forty minutes of the film could have been condensed, as the film is really about the quest itself, and not so much about what leads up to it.
All said, THE EAGLE was a pretty damn entertaining sword n`sandal flick, and a solid night of entertainment at the movies. One of the things I appreciated the most about the film was the almost complete lack of obvious CGI and if you want to see a refreshingly old-fashioned period adventure, you can`t go wrong with THE EAGLE.
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