Title: The Eagle
Directed By: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Donald Sutherland, Denis O’Hare, Jon Campling, Tahar Rahim
Who better to star in a swords and sandals movie than Channing Tatum? He’s basically built for the role. However, just because he looks good in Roman soldier garb doesn’t mean he can act like one. In fact, after The Eagle, it’s impossible not to recognize the fact that Tatum might not be able to act at all. Then again, all the blame can’t fall on this film’s star. Not only is director Kevin Macdonald to blame for the incredible amount of missed opportunities, but so is writer Jeremy Brock for adapting Rosemary Sutcliff’s book into a screenplay that, to a point, permits the stars to have the emotional range of a block of wood.
Tatum is Marcus Aquila, the son of Flavius Aquila, the man who led Rome’s Ninth Legion into the tumultuous land of Caledonia only to lose 5,000 men, Rome’s beloved golden eagle and his own life. Twenty years later, in 140 AD, Marcus is determined to clear his family name and begins his attempt to do so by assuming the top post at a disorderly fort. When they’re attacked, Marcus selflessly risks his life for the safety of his men and for that he’s awarded a top military honor, but also receives an honorable discharge. He’s left severely crippled with no chance of achieving his goal.
It isn’t until Marcus spares the life of a slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), that he begins to heal and his hopes to restore his family’s name become a top priority yet again. Marcus’ Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland) purchases Esca and names him Marcus’ personal slave. Insisting he has no need for a servant, Marcus is resistant to Esca’s presence, but the two soon grow close to one another. When Marcus hears a rumor that the golden eagle has been spotted, their newfound friendship is really put to the test. Together, they ride into the brutal land of Caledonia to do the impossible and bring the golden eagle home to Rome.
The Eagle starts off as expected; Tatum is decked out in the usual Roman soldier attire including a chest plate fully equipped with a six-pack – not like Tatum needs it. His character is quite cold to start which doesn’t gel with his intense concern for the lives of his men. Marcus was likely intended to be the strong, silent type, but Tatum took it one step too far, stripping him of emotion and facial expressions entirely. We finally get a taste of what this guy is really about when he’s thrown into battle. Tatum actually manages to emote far more with a sword in his hand than when dealing with dialogue.
After the big battle at the fort, we’re left without any action for a good portion of the film. This wouldn’t be a problem had Macdonald remembered pacing should still be a concern. The first half of the second act is painfully slow. Even when Bell’s character is introduced, which is quite a breath of fresh air for he’s a talented performer, we’re still moving at a snail’s pace. And things don’t get much better when the duo joins forces to track down the eagle. They’re basically searching blindly across a seemingly endless landscape. However, there is one brief battle in which Marcus and Esca fight side-by-side that’s fairly exciting. Too bad it’s followed by more searching and the unsuccessful use of Mark Strong to try and move things along.
Things pick up a bit in the third act. A new realm of this boring wasteland is introduced that’s actually quite interesting. The new surroundings cause Marcus and Esca’s relationship to take an interesting turn and as the scenario progresses, you’ll catch yourself wondering more and more where their loyalty lies. Had Macdonald opted to trim certain portions, this final leg of the film might have made the whole adventure worth it.
Sadly, that isn’t the case and Macdonald basically delivers a bloated film that never even scratches the surface of its most intriguing elements, the best of which is the relationship between Esca and Marcus. Tatum is certainly lacking in emotional range, but when he’s paired with Bell, we do get a taste of a decent performance. But still, once Bell enters the picture, even without very much dialogue, concern lies with Esca rather than the film’s protagonist. While Tatum blocks us from getting to really know Marcus with an overly stoic performance, Bell manages to maintain Esca’s hard exterior while still allowing the audience to get inside his head.
The Eagle is really just a missed opportunity all around. The costumes are cliché and lack any sort of original flare, the fight scenes are somewhat exciting, but often lose the viewer thanks to shoddy camera coverage and as a result of weak character development by Brock and uninspired performances from nearly the entire cast, it’s impossible to establish a connection with the main players. It’s certainly not painful to sit through by any means, but in the end, The Eagle does feel like a big waste of time, primarily because it did have a chance to be good.
By Perri Nemiroff