“The Eagle” stars Channing Tatum as a Roman soldier on a quest to restore his family’s honor. The movie is set in the Roman empire during the rule of the emperor Hadrian. Tatum (“Dear John,” “Fighting”) plays Marcus Flavius Aquila, a young Roman commander wounded in battle, then honorably discharged. He recovers from his injuries at the home of his uncle, played by Donald Sutherland. While there he spares the life of a feisty British slave named Esca, Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot,” “Jumper”). Esca, owing his life to Marcus, takes an oath to serve his new master. Though they are sworn enemies, a friendship of sorts develops between the two men.
Along the northern border of the Roman empire in Britain runs Hadrian’s wall. North of the wall is a wild province, home to savage clans. Marcus’ father was the commander of the famed Ninth Legion which disappeared in this area. The rumors are that the Ninth Legion died disgracefully in battle. A symbol of this embarrassment is the loss of the golden eagle standard which was carried by the Ninth Legion. Marcus wishes to restore his family’s good name, so he and Esca set out on horseback to retrieve the eagle from the north. Will they survive the elements and the fighting in the north? Will Marcus restore his family’s reputation and the honor of his father? Can he trust Esca?
“The Eagle” was directed by Kevin MacDonald who previously directed the two excellent documentaries “Touching the Void” and “One Day in September” as well as the feature films “The Last King of Scotland” and “State of Play.” “The Eagle” is based on the 1954 book “The Eagle of the Ninth” written by Rosemary Sutcliff who wrote several books about Roman soldiers. There have been a couple of other adaptations inspired by the book. In 1977 the BBC produced a six-episode series, “The Eagle of the Ninth.” More recently, Neil Marshall (director of “The Descent” and “Doomsday”) made “Centurion,” another Roman soldier tale which also references the Ninth Legion.
Historical inaccuracies aside, and there are many, “The Eagle” is surprisingly, solemnly good. I expected an empty-headed bloodbath. While it has neither the emotional depth of Shakespeare nor the hyper-graphic violence and CGI of “300,” there’s enough substance and action in the film to entertain. “The Eagle” plays like a cross between a simple eighties adventure movie and a gritty fable. That’s a good thing. Admittedly, it could have been a more powerful drama, but the filmmakers chose to stay away from anything heavy here. So no moralizing about empirical powers. I suspect some viewers would have prefered more blood. (The film is rated PG-13, not R.) I also suspect that some would have preferred more complexity and character development (and better acting). But I think the movie is just fine; the performances were good enough; I was entertained; no need to over-analyze–it’s not that kind of movie. There’s also some beautiful scenery and good music in the film.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated PG-13, 114 minutes, Adventure