Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: "The Eagle"

"Do you like gladiator movies, Joey?" If you do, then The Eagle is probably not the movie for you. 

Set during the Roman occupation of Britain, The Eagle is based on a 1954 novel by Rosemary Sutcliff,  The Eagle of the Ninth ( first adapted by the BBC as a six-part miniseries in 1977), which posits that Hadrian's Wall was built after the Ninth Legion disappeared in Highlands, along with its revered standard, a golden eagle. 20 years later, the Ninth Legion's leader's son (say that three times fast) Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) arrives for his first assignment as the leader of a small legion at a fort in southern Britain, determined to restore glory to the family name (on a side note, "Aquila" is Latin for... you guessed it, "Eagle."). Almost immediately upon his arrival the fort is set upon by a group of savage Britons, led by a mad druid. It is only through Marcus' bravery that the fort is saved, though the injuries he sustains earn him both awards and an honorable discharge, something which doesn't sit well with him as he recovers at his uncle's (Donald Sutherland) villa. While there, they attend games at a small arena, where Marcus saves the life of a Briton slave named Esca (Jamie Bell), whom his uncle later buys as a 'body slave' for his nephew. Acknowledging that Marcus saved his life, Esca vows his loyalty to his master. During a visit from a local politician and his haughty son, Marcus learns that the Eagle has been seen in dangerous north lands and he and Esca set out to find it and return it to Rome, thus restoring honor to the Aquila name.

Those of you looking for the exciting action adventure promised in the trailers will be sorely disappointed. Oh, there are some semi-exciting battles, though they are few and far between (as in one at the beginning, a smaller sequence in the middle, and one at the end). The Eagle is anything but an action movie. It is in fact, a buddy road picture disguised as an historical drama. There is loads of manly posturing and lots of talk of honor. Mostly there is travel footage through the mountains of northern Britain (filmed mostly in Scotland and Hungary, with mainly Hungarian extras and crew). 

The performances are fine, I suppose, though Tatum (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra; Step Up) is often distractingly pretty (and fully-clothed for far too much of the movie for Uncle P's taste). Bell (Billy Elliot; King Kong) does fine, though I couldn't help but wonder what his English dialog would have actually sounded like in Latin with his accent, especially since the Romans speak English while the Britons speak Erse. Southerland plays the concerned uncle with just the right amount of old-man-wisdom and the ubiquitous Mark Strong is wasted as a deserter from the Ninth who stands tall when it comes to reclaiming his Roman
heritage. And lovely Tahar Rahim still looks pretty even with a weird Mohawk and under tons of blue paint as the Seal Prince. 

Director Kevin McDonald (The Last King of Scotland) does what he can with the script by Jeremy Brock (Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown), but could have cut a good 20 minutes out of the movie without hurting its narrative and providing for a more compact film experience. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (127 Hours) is gorgeous, putting the Scottish Highlands on display as though he were creating a travelogue for the region. Icelandic composer Atli Ovarsson (Season of the Witch) provides a mostly Celtic score which is actually better than the movie for which it was written.

The Eagle isn't really a bad movie - it's just too long and not the movie one expects to see from the trailers. D said he didn't think it was good, but that he still liked it - much like his reaction to Season of the Witch. I didn't hate The Eagle, but I can't say that I really liked, either. Ultimately, the movie deserves a "Meh," at best. ** (Two Stars). The Eagle is rated PG-13 for Battle Sequences and Some Disturbing Images.

More, anon.

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