“The Eagle” isn’t flightless nor is it soaring

Channing Tatum in "The Eagle"

The Eagle fails to soar through the age 140 AD and much of the ‘Eagle’s” inability to fly can be attributed to the screenplay.  Filmic successes are either triumphs or failures primarily because of the story to begin with.  Much like James Cameron’s AVATAR, The Eagle, though beautifully shot, suffers from unnecessary and inadequate dialogue.  There’s just something not quite believable about Roman soldiers from 140 AD marching to the same commands used for the US Military (for example, I’m certain Roman officers were not walking the streets in formation saying “left, left, left-right-left”) and Roman sentecnes were not structured in American English.  And that’s just in the beginning.

Headlined by up-and-coming leading man Channing Tatum (as Marcus Aquila) and supporing actor Jamie Bell (Esca), ‘The Eagle’ thrives on their work between middle and end.  Tatum begins the film acting in a way that seems foreign to those around him.  His voice is deepend and he seemingly is the only actor not Americanizing every single word, much of Tatum’s work in the beginning (and often throughout) is in the nonverbals, where we experience a spiritual and fantastical connection.  The same is said for Bell.  His nonverbals are spot on, but perhaps his strength lies most in the foreign language he speaks (which oddly enough is English).  Once the two are paired and depart from the Roman territories for Northern Britain the film transforms into something rather enjoyable.

The plot is such:  5,000 Roman soldiers (the Ninth Legion) carrying a golden eagle disapper in northern Britain while searching for conquest, to expan Roman territory.  The son of the Ninth Legion’s commander arrives on the scene some twenty years later, but is injured thus “honorably discharged” (in Roman times, I know).  Not content with life, he and his slave set out to recover the lost eagle, which symbolized honor for all of Rome.

The film from here indeed does progress but perhaps leaves more questions than answers.  The film, in fact, becomes immersive and entirely enjoyable. But, because of the PG-13 rating, the viewer is left with questions and the ability to make their own conclusions about relationships.  There is no doubting the strength of Marcus and Esca’s bond, but what would that bond have been with an R rating?  The bond is clearly strong enough to establish trust and faith between the two, it’s also strong enough to earn Esca his freedom from Marcus.  What would death look like in an R rating?  Would the throat slitting be more in your face (despite how sublte it is portrayed)?  Would nudity and betrayl add to the allure of the film?  What about sex?  There is no heroine, no central female figure, no intimate or illicit sex scenes that often dominate portrayls of Roman society.  The love story here is purely masculine, yet the filmmaker (and author) comes to the brink – subtextualizing the romance, concealing it from the viewer.  And that is what holds ‘The Eagle’ back.  The visceral feeling of “I’ve almost got it.  I’m going to push this envelope, but I’m not following through, I’m going to pull back just before I deliver”.  And for a film produced by Focus Features, a studio attached to ‘Brokeback Mountain’, that’s unacceptable.  The screenwritter and director should have taken the risk, it would have yielded great returns.

While ‘The Eagle’ is enjoyable, the lack of attention to detail and superficial military protocol/life in respect to this literary adaptation leaves a lot to be desired.  The lack of risk-taking also leaves a lot to be desired because with the right amounts of believability and risk factor, ‘The Eagle’ had serious potential, sadly such potential was never realized or actualized.  Perhaps my ancient Roman perceptions have been jaded because of the amazing writing and amazing ensemble cast of the Starz series ‘Spartacus’.  But while the writing nor the ensemble of ‘The Eagle’ are great, if you focus your attention solely on the performances of Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, you’ll find the breeze keeping ‘The Eagle’ in the air.

‘The Eagle’ runs approximately 2 hours and is rated PG-13.

Grade:  C+

– B.James

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