Review: The Eagle
The eagle is not a piece of metal. The eagle is Rome
Why does Hollywood have a habit of making films that come in twos?
Capote and Infamous, No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits and next year it’ll be the dueling Snow White films. Recently we’ve had Neil Marshall’s Centurion and Kevin MacDonald’s The Eagle, both pictures treading similar ground by uncovering the mystery surrounding the Roman legion that disappeared in the Scottish highlands.
The difference between Centurion and The Eagle is that the latter picks the story up years after with Channing Tatum’s Marcus Acquila, son of the Roman general who was in charge of the missing Ninth legion, arrives in England to take command of a Roman post near Hadrian’s Wall.
Marcus is injured in an attack by Scottish barbarians and is discharged, destined to spend the his days limping around in an English villa with his uncle (Donald Sutherland) for company. It’s at this moment where he meets Esca (Jamie Bell), a Scottish born slave he rescued in the gladiatorial arena who is now his servant. Plagued by doubts about the Eagle, Marcus takes Esca as his guide to find it.
It’s at this moment where the film skews expectations and veers into a historical buddy movie, which is neither a bad diversion though it does spend its time on male bonding and examining the differences between the two men, which is food and drink for a buddy film.
Both squabble whether it’s Esca’s displeasure about the Roman occupation or Marcus’ willingness to do whatever necessary, but with this type of set-up you can see where it’s going.
The action is sparse and short – the siege of the Roman fort is the film’s most interesting set piece – and the last act is a generic chase that mirrors Centurion. Where Centurion had a thrust to go with its narrative, The Eagle plods along, serving up some grim realism but nothing truly exciting or gripping.
It’s well photographed but the story a certain sense of the grandiose that we’ve come to expect from a historical film. The rush of adrenaline is not there when the action sequences begin, mainly because they’re over before they get going. Add to that a possible allegory for America’s invasion in Iraq and we have a strange curio of a movie, a film that may have something interesting to say but doesn’t quite say it.