¨How can a piece of metal mean so much to you? -The eagle is not a piece of metal. The eagle is Rome.¨
The Eagle is based on a historical novel written by Rosemary Sutcliff called The Eagle of the Ninth (1954). It`s a fiction adventure novel, but it is based on some true facts (The Ninth Legion really did disappear around the 2nd Century and the Wall of Hadrian was built to protect the Romans from the Scottish tribes). Director Kevin Macdonald brings this novel to the big screen, and in my opinion it is one of his weakest films to date. I really enjoyed his previous two films: State of Play and The Last King of Scotland, but this one really disappointed me with its slow pace and lack of a good leading performance. One of the main issues in my opinion is that in his previous movies Macdonald got the casting right, but in The Eagle he was lacking that charismatic lead performance that say Forrest Whitaker gave in The Last King of Scotland. Jeremy Brock, who also worked with Macdonald in the past, adapted the screenplay for The Eagle and since I never read The Eagle of the Ninth I can`t say how faithful this film is to the novel. My main critique of The Eagle relies on the fact that I never really connected with the movie; the pace was really slow and I was waiting for the film to pick up at some point, but it never really did until the very end and by that time I wanted the movie to be over. I kept on dozing off while watching this film and was hugely disappointed with the pace. I wanted the film to end right after I had seen the first 15 minutes.
The story takes place around 140 AD when Britain was being ruled by the Roman Empire. It`s been twenty years since the Ninth Legion has disappeared in the Scottish highlands and lost the Golden Eagle, which was an emblem of honor for Rome. The loss of the emblem has been a disgrace for the Roman Empire. As a result of the defeat they had to build the Hadrian Wall in order to keep the barbarian tribes away. Now a young centurion named Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) has been sent to one of the lasts forts in Britain. He happens to be the son of the defeated Commander of the Ninth Legion, and dreams of someday restoring his father`s name. In order to do so, he will need to head north past the walls and into the uncharted highlands. The Romans are scared of passing the walls because they know these savages are dangerous. After experiencing an injury in battle and retreating to his uncle´s villa, Marcus is convinced he has to try to bring the Eagle back to the Romans. His Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland) tries to convince him not to, but Marcus is decided to take the risk. His only companion is a Briton slave who he has just saved named Esca (Jamie Bell). Esca despises the Romans, but he owes his life to Marcus and is forever indebted to him as his slave. Esca is Marcus`s only hope because he knows the world outside of the walls and can communicate with some of the tribes. Together they set out on an impossible mission to retrieve the golden Eagle and restore his father`s honor.
The story is actually pretty interesting, but I actually failed to connect with the characters in the movie. The pace is really slow and the performance from the cast was just average. I don’t think this was the right role for Tatum; at least I didn’t see him as a Roman centurion. The savages were also a bit over characterized. Mark Strong plays a villain once again and he is pretty convincing as Guern, one of the leaders of a savage tribe. The scenery is really beautiful, but as I said before I kept on dozing off due to the pace and lack of action. The chemistry between the two lead characters was ok, but I felt there could have been more done with their relationship. These two guys come from totally different backgrounds, they have opposing views of the world, but somehow they manage to get over their differences and we see how these two men who should be enemies end up becoming friends. Jamie Bell was pretty convincing in his portrayal of the Briton slave. He`s come a long way from his Billy Elliot days. There is not much more I can say about this movie, it just drags for long periods of times. The action scenes are well choreographed, but they are too few and far spread apart. It is more of a road trip between two different individuals who come together along the journey. The problem is that it`s a journey I wouldn’t want to be taking again.