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Movie Review: The Eagle
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The Eagle
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland
Release date: February 11, 2011

 
What can we expect from a fearless director who documented mountain climbers’ perilous voyage in Touching the Void and directed a film about ruthless dictator Idi Amin? Director Kevin Macdonald didn’t flinch when making either of those films and he doesn’t wince the least bit here when he decides to direct a film about a Roman soldier in search of Rome’s lost pride (a golden Eagle statuette) during the 2nd century in Briton.
 
An exuberant vitality is brought to this material, a characteristic that hasn’t been put to adequate use in recent historical epics. No slouching is occurring here. Macdonald shows a deepened concern with emotion and the ways of how the Romans and savage races live. In The Eagle we see a juxtaposing of contrasting lifestyles. It’s a treat to see this variety and vitality being distributed freely in an action film by a director who has respect for nature and the olden days of Hollywood’s infatuation with adventure films. 


 
The authenticity here is a significant reminder, and an astute verification, of how much more we can be engaged in a story that contains a good number of battle scenes. Macdonald flourishes as he recreates events as genuinely as possible. The throngs of computerized people recklessly fighting on disconnect us. We don’t get that here. Instead we receive a handful of battles that allow us to see what the stakes are of that battle and in the process we become acquainted with the characters doing the battling. Their emotions, beliefs, priorities, and ideals are fully realized. Rather than having a huge battle sprawled out over thousands of yards and containing as many people, we are able to distinguish the presence of each man doing battle.
 
And for such an anomalous achievement, director Macdonald creates an action picture that fully detects the consciousness of men and the perils they encounter in the realm of nature. Such a duel threat has been banished in recent cinema probably due to creative confinement and the grueling process that goes into capturing realism. The last time we saw such luxury of freedom, in the characters and nature, was Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn. 
 
Comparisons to a Herzog film are reasonable when you take into consideration Macdonald’s inclination to comfort the gritty and showcase his actors under extreme duress; Macdonald isn’t afraid of getting down and dirty. And Channing Tatum proves to be his man, ready to take on the grueling adventures that await him. Tatum plays the Roman commander Marcus Aquila, who has been assigned to take command of a band of Roman soldiers at an isolated outpost in Briton. He is young and some soldiers are skeptical of him because of his age but mostly because of whom his father is. Marcus’ father was lead commander of 5,000 Roman soldiers who disappeared in the year 120 AD, losing in the process Rome’s emblem of dominance: the golden Eagle. He was labeled a coward by Rome for his losses. 
 
Marcus decides to go in search of this gold emblem, which leads him to Hadrian’s Wall. Just the name alone gives the mighty Roman soldiers the shivers. If they dare to pass the wall they will undoubtedly encounter dangers in every form. Savages own this side of the wall.  But what in the world are we worried about? It is Channing Tatum, who is physically capable of enduring anything, person, or savage that would perturb any other human being, who will go through hell to bring back the symbol of the Roman Empire. He doesn’t go alone, though. Along with him is Jamie Bell, who plays Esca, Marcus’ slave. He tags along because he is a Brit and can recognize who the troublemakers are and find the right path for Marcus to travel down.
 
There are clichés throughout their perilous journey that gives the film more than a single occasion to create moments of sappy melodrama. But we have an impulse to neglect them because Macdonald doesn’t rely on the battles, the violence, or the near-escapes to make his film pulse. Rather, he loads his film with an actual heart that pulsates. The Eagle takes the opportunity to encompass honor and loyalty, two characteristics that are seen as being most honorable, especially during the Roman Empire. And in a film about warfare these are the ideas one wants to highlight. Macdonald never allows the action to supplant emotion. Marcus and Esca, as well as Marcus and his father he never sees, have a believable relationship that proves to be palpable. And for this we should be thankful.

Rating: **** out of *****

1 Comment »

  1. Your review makes me want to watch this film but as a lover of the book I am still a little concerned that it will destroy everything that I love about the book. My main concern is the casting of Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, neither of whom have I ever really liked in a film.

    Comment by Matt Newbould — February 20, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

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