Russell Crowe, Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell have all donned ancient Roman attire, and now we can add to the sword-and-sandal fraternity... Channing Tatum? Turns out it's not such a bad call, since The Eagle has little dialogue to screw up. This must be "survival month" at the movies because beyond the themes of honor and freedom, at the core this movie is another installment of "will they or won't they make it?"
The ominous tone sets this movie immediately apart from Hollywood mainstream gladiator territory. Academy Award-winning director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) teams up again with screenwriter Jeremy Brock for this historical epic set in second century Roman-ruled Britain. A young Roman soldier, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), endeavors to restore honor to his father's memory by finding his lost legion's golden emblem, the treasured eagle. It's been 15 years since the Ninth Legion of 5,000 men, led by Marcus' father, went missing in the mountains of Scotland. Aquila's only traveling companion on his quest for the eagle emblem is his British slave, Esca (Jamie Bell). Along the way they confront the savage tribes of the land and not knowing if Dad's actions were of cowardice or bravery, Marcus is at battle within to prove himself.
Tatum wears the raging inner turmoil on his brooding sleeve and I can't tell if Bell is more angry about being a slave or having to play one. Donald Sutherland makes an appearance as the skinny Grizzly Adams-looking uncle. Villain extraordinaire Mark Strong pops up, but, oddly, as a good guy this time. Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) is unrecognizable with what looks like a muskrat skull on his head as the leader of an ashen-grey colored tribe that resembles Avatar's Navi race only super-evil. Refreshingly, there are no fake British accents.
The brutal fight scenes are all swords swooshing, action cuts, hacking and bashing, but not a trickle of blood. There's sound and choreography to distract us and the editing executes the more gruesome kills off camera. Judging by the 15 minutes of credits, it seems somebody could've splurged for some squibs.
The realistic and somber approach to this flick makes it watchable, but it's choppy. Some scenes feel unnecessary then cut to an end result without an explanation of how and why people got there. And the last scene is unnecessarily upbeat. Shot in Hungary and Scotland with impressive scenery and really cool music, I kept expecting a more Fellini or Pier Paolo Pasolini surrealistic approach, yet Eagle feels more like early Werner Herzog or Terrence Malick, keeping the tone gritty with a desperation and futility expressed throughout.
Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim
Directed By Kevin McDonald