Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Jim Release date: February 8, 2011 Released by: Focus Features
An unassuming, if finally disconcerting historical period adventurer comes across as less visceral and dank than last year's more limited art-house, kind-redly prequel of a piece in the U.K.- produced The Centurion also set in the second century.
The Eagle, which stars Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, and Donald Sutherland may be equally single-minded and a bit stilted when it comes to storytelling and characterization. Yet, for some, there may be something good to say for Tatum, in an about face from his hapless character Zip in The Dilemma, still trying to establish more viability in his profession to try to complement his physical presence. He has previously showed promise in films like A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints and even Stop-Loss, though there always seems to be an overriding blandness or similarity in execution of most of his roles.
Nevertheless, this sword-and-sandal saga (shot in Hungary and Scotland), which never really hits a strong emotional crescendo, earnestly draws from Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 tome, The Eagle of the Ninth as it tries to instill some political and historical context derived from what happened to Rome's Ninth Legion. Tatum's young military commander in Marcus Aquila endeavors to honor the memory of his father, Flavius, two score years later, by locating his lost legion's eponymous golden standard.
In the mostly undernourished screenplay by Jeremy Brock, Marcus looks for spiritual guidance to "regain my family's honor" as he sustains physical injury at the hands of a vicious, ambushing Briton tribe. It must be said that the desperate, martial locals aren't made out to be more than what plagues Marcus to surge on.
Recuperating with his benevolent uncle, a steady Sutherland, also who made the most of his screen time in The Mechanic, Marcus (who recalls the time of his dad) earns the trust of Bell's slave Esca, whose life he saves. They'll travel northward beyond Hadrian's Wall into Caledonia (which is now Scotland) on a dangerous mission, ultimately in an escape under enormous circumstances.
Like Neil Marshall's aforementioned foray of "history is written in blood," there is a shortage of decent dialogue and interesting relational angst; obviously the crux of the movie ignites dramatically off of the changeable interaction between Marcus and a torn Esca as the pressure of an exotic, feral enemy mounts. But, until the latter-going much of Anthony Dod Mantle's sharply lensed picture is sluggish, before the more redemptive action-packed high-point.
Under the straightforward direction of Kevin MacDonald (who worked more persuasively with Brock on The Last King of Scotland), The Eagle often acquits itself admirably by not aiming for a lot (perhaps like the handsome, determined centurion organizes his operation). Still, the swift editing of some of the arguably dynamic mayhem-fueled scenes lessens their power, obviously to fill in a broader demographic. One that may not be attuned very well to geography and history.
If Tatum doesn't succeed well enough in rounding out a conflicted centurion, Bell (see Mister Foe or even Flag Of Our Fathers) offers more with enough defiant vigor than just a slavering presence. Too bad some of the other notable character thespians like Mark Strong (Kick-Ass) as Guern are hampered by the nature of the script even if Tahar Rahim (see A Prophet) as the spooky Seal Prince benefits from the makeup and costume designs. Many moviegoers may appreciate some of the excitement of a less profuse, unobtrusive enterprise touched by tradition even if such a vivid presentation lacks the substance nuance to go along with the nobility of one like Marcus.