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Movie ReviewsRating: 3.5 of 5 yaps

The Eagle

Exclamation points and question marks turn up in subtitled dialogue of “The Eagle.” Periods? Not so much, but there’s already enough short, declarative simplicity to the throwback tone and structure of this Roman-Empire adventure.

Save the gore, this lean-budgeted production could easily have come from the same era as its 1954 source novel — stoic, steadfast, somber and (mostly) skimpy on silliness.

And were this a blockbuster, Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell would be last on a list of leads. Although they’re both beefy enough to dub this “The Last of the Bohunkans,” they’re more than just American steak and British fish & chips.

Many talented directors have lost their way in such Roman wildernesses — including B-movie staple Neil Marshall with 2010’s manically misguided “Centurion.” Not so for Kevin Macdonald, briefly stepping away from his milieu of real-life reenactments (“Touching the Void”) and topical fiction (“The Last King of Scotland”).

“Scotland” co-writer Jeremy Brock adapted “The Eagle” in a script that’s both anthropological about the savage superstitions of combat culture and philosophical about how war’s gears grind up even the most idyllic notions of nationalism.

Before succumbing to a boilerplate ending, Brock uses “The Eagle’s” calm interludes to create character traits and compelling drama about caste systems and camaraderie — not just connective tissue to shattered cartilage and bashed brains.

Set in 140 A.D., “The Eagle” takes place 20 years after the unexplained disappearance in northern England of all 5,000 soldiers in Rome’s Ninth Legion. With them vanished the Eagle — a golden symbol of Rome’s war-machine achievements.

This humiliating loss, the film suggests, prompted Rome to erect Hadrian’s Wall — a fortification marking, at that time, the end of the “known” (read: civilized) world.

Marcus (Tatum) is the disgraced son of the centurion who led and lost those men — a soldier himself who takes no chances upon assuming command of a remote southern-England outpost.

“The Eagle” is at its most elaborate early — a nighttime ambush and chaos under the hood of a hulking mass of shielded soldiers shuffling forward a step at a time. But artistry and aesthetics are readily evident — employing subtle editing and sound design to suggest Marcus’s caution might be his downfall before all hell breaks loose.

It’s hard to believe Marcus could save his entire legion by toppling just one of several scythed chariots bearing down on them, but he does — severely injuring his leg and, to his deep dismay, earning an honorable discharge from service.

Often in the same sullen moment, Tatum conveys shame, heroism and foolishness. When Marcus runs into the business end of a billy club late in the film, it’s stupid but completely fitting. All Tatum must do is convince us of Marcus’s conviction, and he does so effectively. After all, there are worse things Tatum could grow into than another Dennis Quaid — like another Josh Hartnett.

Marcus knows his poorly sutured wound is a perfect excuse to exorcise him and his sullied name from the empire. He also knows about being consigned to what amounts to death after a valiant effort.

That’s why he spares Esca (Bell), a Briton slave forced into gladiatorial combat and later purchased for Marcus by his uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland, showing his Canadian roots by droppin’ vowels like everyone was doin’ in the second century).

Esca’s father laid down his life to keep it from being usurped by Roman occupation, and that nobility of suicidal sacrifice before persecution looms large within him. So does his intolerance for men who turn tail and run when their fortune dips low.

Once Esca arrives, his fiery forthrightness forges a strong oppositional force with Marcus. In a sharply scripted exchange, he establishes that he, too, knows of wartime pain and pageantry just like Marcus.

Driven by rumors that the Eagle has been seen north of Hadrian’s Wall, Marcus tasks Esca for what seems a suicide mission to reclaim the idol, and Marcus’s honor, for Rome. While struggling to resolve cultural differences, Marcus and Esca discover another form of imperial indoctrination brewing over the wall.

Macdonald’s eye for harsh, humbling terrain recalls “Void,” and “The Eagle” is about as handsomely mounted a movie that $20 million can buy. Yet, for all of its many unanticipated strengths, “The Eagle” peters out in a weak poof by its climax.

The same people who likely slaughtered Marcus’s men seem awfully susceptible to Esca’s flimsy third-act suggestion. Character actor du jour Mark Strong gets one good scene before he looks genuinely confused over whether he’s still on the “Robin Hood” set. And Atli Örvarsson’s score lays it on thick over a rather miraculous climactic recovery from sepsis.

“The Eagle” doesn’t soar, but it routes a good flight pattern somewhere between the majesty of Michael Mann’s “The Last of the Mohicans” and the mediocrity of Antoine Fuqua’s theatrical cut of “King Arthur.”

3.5 Yaps

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12 Responses to “The Eagle”

  1. Jack says:

    I am really looking forward to seeing this film for it’s historical content – thanks for the review! Cheers!

  2. John says:

    I agree with joe…although I love history epic movies like troy, gladiator, braveheart, etc., i’m not sure that channing tatum ought to be the star of this movie…i hope, however that he proves me wrong.

  3. Joe Shearer says:

    I don’t know about knowing everything, but I’ve seen Channing Tatum in two different movies (note: this is not one of them; I’m speaking of "GI Joe" and "Dear John"), and I’ve yet to see a single shred of evidence that he can act a lick. I’ve seen him effectively convey two emotions: detached apathy and slight confusion.

  4. Nick Rogers says:

    JC: Thanks for reading and commenting. I don’t feel like I "spit hate" about the movie. Sarcasm? Guilty. Long story short: I liked "The Eagle’s" thoughtfulness about the wages of war, was entertained by the action and enjoyed Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell’s performances. There are just a lot of things about it (the dopey ending, Donald Sutherland’s Canadian vowel-dropping, the easily gullible "seal people") that could be better. All of this said, I hope you enjoy it should you see it.

  5. JC says:

    I thought it was a "Boy" movie but Nick Rogers gave it a 3.5 so I thought I would check out his review. Now I am more confused than before about this movie. Rogers uses too much sarcasm and seems to spit hate about the movie. Is it good or is it bad…. that’s what the readers want to know.

  6. Nick Rogers says:

    RK: Thanks for reading and commenting. I don’t know whether you’re likening me to a critic who’s panned the movie and asserted that Channing Tatum can’t act. I’ve certainly done neither of those. While I thought the movie could have been better, it’s still a recommendation, and I said that Tatum "effectively" conveyed the conviction of which we need to be convinced for Marcus.

  7. RK MacBride says:

    I loved this film! I had read the book as a kid many years ago, but didn’t remember how it all turned out. It’s VERY well done, despite critics who think they know everything and pan it. And I never thought I’d live to hear Gaelic in a movie! And the lead plays his part well– don’t know why the critic says he can’t act.

  8. Jason says:

    So is this something actually worth seeing despite Channing Tatum having no talent at all? I will probably wait for it on DVD at Redbox when I get a free code and there is nothing else to rent. Not excited at all about this movie.

  9. I am looking forward to seeing this. It goes beyond your typical sword and shield battles and brings in a bit of history. Showing the life of a warrior in second century Britain.

  10. Geraldine says:

    I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed this movie. Jamie Bell is such a great actor. I look forward to the rest of the movies he has coming out this year.

  11. Jason says:

    Once again Channing Tatum, who has no talent at all, is in a movie that he stars in as the lead role of a hero. This guy can not act out of a paper bag. Chances are this movie will flop hard and close up shop after a week. Why do movies like this keep coming out knowing no one will pay to see it? It is basically a slap in the face of the American public. By the way, who the heck is paying this guy? I need to get into movies. If he can do it, so can I.

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