Cast: Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), Esca (Jamie Bell), Marcus's uncle (Donald Sutherland), Lucius Caius Metellus (Mark Strong), Prince of Seal People (Tahar Rahim), Chief of Seal People (Ned Dennehy)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Theatrical release: 02/11/2011 DVD Date: 06/21/2011
Review: In 120AD the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army marched into the unconquered territory of Northern Britain. They were never seen again. All 5,000 men vanished, together with their treasured standard … The Eagle.
So begins this epic adventure, which introduces Marcus Flavius Aquilla as the son of the leader of the Ninth Legion. As the Eagle is presumed lost forever, the Ninth Legion has been retired by Rome, the family's name dishonored. Marcus, a young centurion who presumably has trained hard and, in spite of his family's dishonor, retains its political connections, is assigned to command a remote outpost in Britain in the opening scenes. The men he commands resent him, but his instinct and training serve him well and he beats back an attack on the garrison. Unfortunately, he is severely injured during the attack, and is honorably discharged from further duty.
His recovery takes place in the home of his uncle, who buys him a slave — a local young man named Esca — to assist him. Some time later, he learns that the Eagle is rumored to have been seen north of the Roman occupation, in a region that is considered not only inhospitable for humans but deadly for Romans. Determined to learn of the fate of his father and the Ninth Legion, Marcus takes Esca and the two young men ride north into the untamed wilderness.
I enjoyed The Eagle, though it is not without a handful of drawbacks.
On the plus side, for a two-hour film, it is paced well. Clearly considerable time passes between when Marcus and Esca set off on their quest and its conclusion, shown by the changing of the seasons and the significant changes in the landscape. The look of the film is terrific. The battle scenes are exciting, relatively short and relatively free of blood and gore. I also bought the uneasy friendship that develops between Marcus and Esca, even though the latter is a slave to the former. And the storyline works as an adventure and suspense film: What did happen to Marcus's father and the 5,000 men under his command?
On the down side, much of the acting, particularly by Channing Tatum, is rather expressionless. A little wooden, actually. I appreciate that he's supposed to be this level-headed, even-keeled person on a mission, but it isn't until the very end that he shows any animation whatsoever. I also didn't get the Seal People. I'm guessing they're not real in a historical sense, but some sort of amalgamation of several indigious tribes that once inhabited the region. But what exactly was the point of the gray paint that some of the men wore all the time? Maybe while they're hunting or fishing or fighting it has value, but this seemed to be standard everyday wear for them. I found myself speculating on this far too often, to no avail. When something doesn't seem to fit in a film, especially something that occupies much of the latter half of the film, it's quite obvious.
The film is adapted from a young adult novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, but is not directly targeted to this audience.
Overall, The Eagle is a solid combination of story, look, and action, and one that I recommend.