Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Eagle

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.


The Film Doctor said...

Thoughtful analysis, but I was a bit confused by what you thought of the second half of the movie. Did you find it too melodramatic? The Eagle's trailer made the movie look so ponderous and clunky, I opted to not go see it. Do you recommend the movie?

Richard Bellamy said...

FilmDr - Let's put it this way. The Eagle is vastly superior to I Am Number Four, which I saw last night. If you need to see a movie at the multiplex this weekend, I'd see the former.

I guess I enjoyed the trappings of the traditional Roman epic: the swords and armor and clever defenses - even the picturesque Roman villa - to the trappings of the second half which seemed to string together too many scenes of camping out in the Scottish highlands. The second half was sort of a cross between Last of the Mohicans and Apocalypto - which is fine, I guess. I just enjoyed the scenes involving the Roman outpost more.

Sam Juliano said...

I've avoided the film, though I'll certainly take a look at the DVD down the road. Or maybe as an add on later this week at the multiplex on discount night. That said I am definitely a sucker for the Roman trapping movies dating back to the 60's. I actually got to see THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE at the Film Forum over the summer during the Mann Festival. And I have found worth in the HBO series ROME. So again I have similar taste! Ha!

Very nicely framed and written piece!

Richard Bellamy said...

Thanks, Sam, for checking this out. I'm a fan of The Fall of the Roman Empire. Christopher Plummer does a great job as the mad emperor - exciting chariot duel, tense javelin duel at the end, and one of the greatest sets ever built. The DVD contains a great doc on the construction of the set. Samuel Bronston also did it up big for 55 Days at Peking and his huge set of the foreign compound in Peking. I was going to say they don't do that anymore, but they built an extensive set for the city in Troy.