There have been several movies about Rome’s powerful Ninth Legion and their annihilation in the British territories in the 2nd century. The newest addition is “The Eagle”, adapted from the novel “The Eagle of the Ninth” by Rosemary Sutcliff. Channing Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, a young Roman centurion taking his first command in a dangerous and isolated part of Britain. Aquila seeks to restore the honor of his father who was leader of the powerful Ninth Legion when they mysteriously disappeared along with the sacred golden Eagle of Rome. After their fort is attacked, Aquila gains the trust and admiration of his legion by leading them to victory but is injured in the battle resulting in his honorable discharge. But with his father’s name still held in contempt and the Eagle still missing, he sets out on a quest past the Northern Wall, accompanied only by his newly acquired slave Esca (Jaime Bell), to find the Eagle and redeem his father’s reputation .
While “The Eagle” does start off promising, it’s an inconsistent and uneven film that falls into mediocrity. The first act is encouraging. The attack on the fort features the film’s best action sequences. They are furiously shot and edited and bring reminders of films like “Gladiator”. Later, as we’re introduced to Esca, the relationship between wounded Roman hero and Rome-hating slave offers up potential even though it’s built upon pretty familiar grounds. But it never goes very far. Nonetheless the movie still has some pretty decent moments early on.
But then the picture bogs down in numerous scenes of tedious exposition and a quest that lacks any real sense of urgency or peril. These problems can be traced back to a very lackluster script. Other than a few bits of text in the opening, there’s no real effort to develop the film’s historical setting. There is no real explanation of the importance of the Eagle other than “The Eagle is Rome”. The relationship between Aquila and Esca is underdeveloped and hard to buy into. The ending is flat and lacks any real punch or emotion. These are all issues that could be resolved with better writing.
Channing Tatum does a better acting job than in many of his previous films but the verdict is still out for me. He gives a good effort but he just can’t carry a picture like this. His scenes involving interaction with his soldiers early on are his best but he struggles elsewhere. Then you have Donald Sutherland who is laughably bad and terribly miscast as Marcus’ uncle. He appears to be just going through the motions and he’s impossible to take seriously. Jamie Bell gives the better performance of any but even he is handcuffed by the weak screenplay.
“The Eagle” is a very “ok” movie. It’s best parts are experienced early then the movie falls off considerably. It starts off as a poor man’s “Gladiator” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But then it loses it’s identity and heads off into a different direction becoming a very mediocre action picture. The characters and the story are underdeveloped and in a movie like this you have to buy into the quest and the stakes must be high. The stakes weren’t that high and I was never sold enough on the story to really invest in it.