We’ve all lost or left something like money or personal item in a place that if you go back it will be gone but looking could cost you your life, so swallowing your pride and leaving it is more sensible than losing your life as money can be replaced but your life can’t. What if that item was a golden eagle the symbol of the Ninth Legion, the item that will restore the honour of your family’s name? Step Forward Kevin MacDonald‘s THE EAGLE starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland and Mark Strong.
THE EAGLE is based on the popular novel The Eagle Of The Ninth (the movies original name) by Rosemary Sutcliff, the story of Marcus Flavius a young Roman General who has one obsession in life, to restore his family’s name within the Roman Empire. Marcus father was the commander of the Ninth Legion who led 5000 legionnaires north of Hadrian’s Wall leading them to their deaths to be slaughtered by the fearsome tribes of Caledonia (Scotland). 20 Years on the weight of dishonour on Marcus’ shoulders is increasing, but so is his determination to find the Eagle return it to Rome restoring the faith in his family’s name.
Marcus gets stationed in Britain and is soon involved in a battle which he gets injured, he is sent south to recover living with his politician uncle (Donald Sutherland) to recover, It is here during a gladiator match Marcus is watching we meet Esca (Jamie Bell), a young slave he saves from certain death. During a confrontation at dinner with some of his uncle’s political friends, Marcus decides he must begin the long journey north into unknown treacherous lands to find the Eagle. With Esca at his side, the pair set out on the long journey which sees them come up against those fearsome warriors testing their character, will, courage and mutual loyalty.
When a movie which is set in your homeland, it tends to give you that little extra buzz of excitement (filmed mostly in Scotland with a little bit in Hungary) but expecting much more from this movie you may be disappointed. Been a movie about Roman Legions you maybe expecting non-stop battle scenes, unfortunately, there isn’t many as this isn’t an action movie despite the fact the movie is about the search for ‘the Eagle’. You will get some battles within the movie however this is a story about friendship, loyalty, courage and the relationship between master & slave Marcus and Esca, in some ways it’s a ‘bromance’!
To be a lead actor or actress in a lead film it takes some strong confidence, imagination, charisma to carry a film keeping the viewers interested in what they’re watching and despite the effort sadly Tatum fails. Thankfully Jamie Bell does feel the stronger actor giving the movie some needed momentum keeping us interested in what’s going on, Tatum isn’t a bad actor he just seems to lack that extra edge someone who looks like someone who cant express his emotions greatly probably why he feels a little out of depth in the more dramatic roles such as Marcus. Maybe if he used some of that energy and passion saw in his action roles including the battle scenes of this movie critics may have more positive things to say about the actor. As for the rest of the cast, Donald Sutherland does okay as the ageing politician uncle maybe underused a little but not as underused as Mark Strong. When you have an actor such as Strong in your line up you do expect to use his talents more freely rather than limit him to the bare minimum especially when you look at his past glories!
At times you feel THE EAGLE doesn’t really know what type of film it wants to be and at times seems MacDonald fails to get his message across for example. Apart from the small budget constraints Channing Tatum was chosen for the role as Marcus for a reason, he’s American and this was meant to be a political statement against the aggressive globalisation of the world by American Imperialism in today’s society. This may have worked if the Roman Soldiers actually where portrayed in a more aggressive, totalitarian manner rather been too nice a typical Hollywood trait which used to show the British during WW2 as the Imperialists, the Americans as the slaves (Ben Hur, Spartacus two good examples). Even the fearsome northern tribes like the Celts, Picts, Seal People (who looked more like something from Duran Duran Wild Boys music video!) didn’t come across as the Barbaric warriors they were build up to be as when Marcus & Esca arrive in Caledonia the local people are merely farmers. In another way you could look at the northern tribes, their reputation merely built upon urban myth, stories told by survivors who would sensationalise their experience which would make anyone, not from Caledonia easier prey!
Despite the movie’s flaws deep down I actually did enjoy THE EAGLE probably because my expectations were low. Probably due to the fact the budget was small, Tatum was the lead actor which is risen slightly due to a stronger support cast.There is also the small matter that this movie is based on a children’s book I wasn’t expecting the brutal bloody battle scenes many people expected as they try to compare to the other Ninth Legion movie Centurion starring Michael Fassbender who would have been a better choice than Tatum for the lead role. The fight scenes we do see were actually not bad, less brutal style more WWE style which would entertain the movies actual intended audience.
THE EAGLE is a melodramatic story of loyalty, rivalry and honour, not the action fest many expected but trying too hard to be like The Gladiator made it hard for this film to succeed plus that movie had a decent cast plus a budget MacDonald would die for! The movie does possess stunning scenery, the backdrop of the Scottish Highland is breathtaking and captures the moment of the movie really well, the harsh brutal reality of how hard life was for the Caledonians in lands plagued by unpredictable weather conditions.
Overall THE EAGLE is a movie with brains which showed it had plenty of potentials which lost its way several times but if it used that brain it passed we might have seen a more enjoyable affair than the slightly predictable historical drama it turned out to be. But if you watch the movie with the very little expectation you will enjoy this movie.
★★★| Paul Devine
Action, Adventure | UK, 2011 | 12A | 25th July 2011 (UK) |Universal Pictures |Dir.Kevin McDonald | Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim | Buy: [DVD]
Originally Posted at The Peoples Movies | 22nd July 2011