Review: The Eagle (2011)

Adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel The Eagle Of The Ninth, The Eagle is an historical adventure film directed by Kevin Macdonald.

Set in Roman-ruled Britain, The Eagle tells the story of a young Roman soldier (Channing Tatum) who endeavors to honour his father’s memory by finding his lost legion’s golden emblem.

A simple story, perhaps, and nothing original in terms of narrative elements, but the opening act is intelligent, fast-paced and engaging enough to maintain the audiences attention. At the halfway mark, however, the narrative shifts a gear, its pace changes and it suddenly becomes a chase film, ending in an uninspired way that somewhat ruins the polished opening setup.

Relying massively on standard cinematic methods as opposed to often cheap and fake-looking state-of-the-art CGI effects, the battle sequences are given a commendable sense of visceral realism. This works in Macdonald’s favour.

The aforementioned sequences are occasionally brutal and bloody, but not overly so. Moreover, aside from one or two mild profanities and the obviously simmering homoeroticism between Marcus and Esca, the film is, to its merit, refreshingly devoid of unnecessary sexual content.

One of the films major flaws is that Macdonald, and screenwriter Jeremy Brock, are too afraid to let the material be about what it should be: violence. Instead, they try too hard to make it into a more intimate character piece, which ends up feeling all too superfluous.

While he may seem like an odd fit, Channing Tatum rises to the occasion and fills the role of Marcus Aquila admirably – as does his co-star, Bell, in his. The dynamic and tension between their characters is outstanding. By combining their individualistic personalities and working together, the audience is allowed a better understanding of their motives, no matter how nonsensical they are.

The performances from the supporting cast – including turns from Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong and Tahar Rahim – are competent enough, but they’re all too disposable to make much of an impact on the overall narrative.

As an historical epic, The Eagle falls short. But as minor escapist fare, with fun, engaging and bold ideas, it unexpectedly succeeds.

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