February 12, 2011

Movie Review: The Eagle (2011)

Back in the early A.D.'s the Roman Empire was still expanding its reach. Fortunately, this is not about the big picture of the Empire. Not that it would be a bad thing, but the scope would be a bit much. Instead we focus on the aftermath of one particular incident that occurred in the north of Britain in the Scottish empire. The Eagle gives us the story of the golden eagle Standard that was lost by the Ninth. Certainly enough in the story to make an interesting film, but is this that film?

The short answer is no. With that said, The Eagle is not as bad as I was expecting it to be, but it also is not that good. There is something about this movie that just does not click, and I mean more than Channing Tatum's acting. The movie seems to be missing chunks, more than what they had to cut around in order to get a PG-13 rating. The Eagle does not appear to want to tell the whole story, or it doesn't want to extrapolate to give us fully fledged characters. The only one that  see as really trying here is Jamie Bell.

Around 120 AD the Romans apparently had enough with the Scots and Norther Britain and built a wall blocking it of from the rest of their occupied territory. This came after the loss of the Ninth Army and the Standard. The story told here picks up twenty years later, the wall is up and the disappearance of the Ninth has never been solved. To a remote outpost comes a young Roman soldier, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum). He has ties to this part of the world and requested the assignment. He is the son of the lost leader of the Ninth.

Before long, he is faced with battle, a bravely fought battle but one that leaves him seriously injured. He is sent back to Italy where he resides with his uncle (Donald Sutherland) to recuperate. During his recuperation and his desire to be back in action he saves a young slave, Eska (Bell), seen in a gladiator battle. The slave is than made Marcus's and before you know it, Marcus wants to take him on a lone wolf mission into the North to find the Eagle.

And that they do, they head past the wall and into the north. There is bloodshed and there is information gathered. They find the eagle, they fight, and in the end I was half expecting them to go running towards the horizon like Batman and Robin.

The story is a simple one. Marcus wants to find the eagle to restore his family's honor. He takes a slave, they form a cautious alliance. They fight, they learn to respect each other's sense of honor, they find the eagle, they fight some more, end of story.

There are a few moments in this film that are shot rather nicely but the narrative seems to have holes in it. While it is not the fastest paced of films, it does seem to skip over chunks of  character development. Motivations seem fuzzy. Allegiances change at times without explanation. Now, I am not exactly asking for everything to spelled out, but in The Eagle it just feels off.

The acting is pretty sub par with both Channing Tatum and Donald Sutherland feeling terribly out of place. Tatum moreso because he is almost always on the screen. His look, his voice, nothing fit the setting. It is like they found the one New Yorker in all of Rome. He is not exactly A-list talent, but he has his place and his place is not in period films, he is much too much of a modern actor. I did like Jamie Bell, he brings some emotion and depth to a character where there was apparently little on the page. If only he would get better work than movies like this and Jumper.

Kevin Macdonald directed the film. The documentarian turned feature filmmaker has a good eye for the screen but has not been able to match his debut feature The King of Scotland or even his last documentary, the dramatized Touching the Void. Save for some messy looking action, it looks good. Oddly enough, my favorite sequence was during the last big fight sequence when the music fades away and the specific sounds of the fight are amplified. That was amazing. Another sequence I liked was seeing testudo in action (that is the formation used in the first battle).

When it comes right down to it, I cannot recommend this movie. Sure, it doesn't follow all of he usual elements, for example there is no romantic interest, but that doesn't let it off the hook. Ultimately, I was rather bored and believe this could have used another rewrite or two.

Not Recommended.

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