Saturday, March 7, 2015

#1,664. The Eagle (2011)

Directed By: Kevin Macdonald

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland

Tag line: "The destiny of a soldier. The honour of a slave. The fate of an empire"

Trivia: According to Channing Tatum, the actors trained 4–5 hours a day for each role

Based on Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth, which was itself inspired by the disappearance of Rome’s Ninth Legion in the 2nd century A.D., The Eagle tells the story of Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), a Roman centurion who’s just arrived in Britain to take command of a frontier garrison. It was Marcus’ father who commanded the ill-fated Ninth, which, along with 5,000 troops and the legion’s beloved Eagle standard, disappeared in the British Northern Highlands in 120 A.D. In an effort to erase the shame this brought to his family, Marcus guides his men to victory over a tribe of Celtic warriors. Injured during the battle, Marcus is taken to Calleva, where he recuperates in a house owned by his uncle (Donald Sutherland). Awarded for his bravery, Marcus also learns that, due to the severe injury to his leg, he has been honorably discharged from the Roman army.

Several weeks later, Marcus’ uncle is visited by his old friend Claudius Marcellus (Dakin Matthews), who tells Marcus there are rumors the Eagle standard of the Ninth Legion has been spotted in Northern Britain. Determined to recover the standard and return it to Rome, thus clearing his father’s name, Marcus heads north accompanied only by his slave Esca (Jamie Bell). The son of a British Chieftain, Esca hates Rome and all it stands for, but has nonetheless sworn to serve Marcus, who saved his life during a gladiatorial match. Together, Marcus and Esca cross into the wild regions of the North, where they begin their search for the Ninth’s Eagle. Will the two men beat the odds and complete their mission, or will they also fall victim to the primitive tribes that slaughtered the Ninth some twenty years ago?

Directed by Kevin MacDonald, The Eagle boasts several thrilling battle sequences, including the early one in which Marcus distinguishes himself (a melee that features two memorable skirmishes and one very daring rescue operation). This is but the first of many well-choreographed fight scenes found throughout the film. In addition, The Eagle is a gorgeous motion picture, taking full advantage of the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands (portions were shot in, among other places, Loch Lomand and Stirling’s Finnich Glen). I also enjoyed Atli Örvarsson’s musical score, a blending of classical and Celtic that set the perfect tone in just about every scene.

Alas, those looking for more than well-executed battle sequences and pretty scenery are bound to be disappointed. The relationship that develops between Marcus and Esca feels as if it was lifted from a standard “buddy” picture, and the story itself, despite being set in ancient times, is quite often tired and predictable (especially in the final act). A throwback of sorts to the epic adventure movies of Hollywood’s heyday, The Eagle soars high when the action heats up, only to come crashing to earth whenever things quiet down.

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