Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The Eagle, an earnest adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth, offers a solidly engrossing first half as Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), the son of the commander of the “Lost Ninth Legion,” assumes command of an isolated fort in Roman-occupied Britain in the 2nd Century AD. As the stolid by savvy Marcus, Channing Tatum exhibits commendable screen presence as he shapes up his fearful, grumbling Latin grunts like an American officer bolstering reluctant soldiers in a forlorn Vietnam firebase. Marcus senses danger and expertly prepares his men for a nighttime assault. Unfortunately, excessive fast-shutter speed camerawork makes most of the action a blur. Meanwhile, the film’s memorable long shots frame this Roman outpost of progress under brooding skies and establish its very convincing presence.
After a thrilling scene in which Marcus forms his men into the testudo in order to charge through a Celtic horde and save Roman captives from decapitation, the wounded commander ends up convalescing in a tranquil Thames-side villa where he gets the aged good council of Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland). There, Marcus plans a journey to retrieve the Ninth’s golden eagle in order to reinstate his dead father’s lost honor.
As Marcus, guided by a Briton slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), travels north through rugged landscapes filmed in Hungary and Scotland, the scenes of riding and camping and riding slow things down. Attacks by “rogue warriors” and Celts, who look a cross between Pawnee warriors and Queequeq in John Huston’s Moby Dick, pep things up though they turn the movie into a different sort of film. Mark Strong as the fierce Celtic Chieftain, Guem, steers the story toward melodrama, but the film’s rich settings hold your attention.
Ironically, a lot of dying is done to win back a dead man’s honor. Marcus’s motives might be something only an ancient Roman could understand, but the film offers a matter-of-fact depiction of a simple tale of honor set convincingly in a muddy, murky ancient Britain, and I enjoyed the film’s sincerity and the atmospheric images it presents.