Though the genre was submitted to the historical archives several years ago, Roman era-based action dramas continue to rear their ugly heads, typically with much lower budgets and B-grade actors. Such is the case with Focus Features' The Eagle, a valiant but ultimately futile effort.
These days, movies set in historical times have to be epics. Gladiator was fun, but it was also a sweeping drama that transcended its core concept. Most of the movies that have followed in the Oscar-winning film's footsteps - King Arthur, and more recently throwaway fare like Centurion - have tried to replicate that movie's success, without really caring.
The Eagle cares, it just doesn't soar.
The movie, directed by Kevin Macdonald and written by Jeremy Brock, who combined forces to make The Last King of Scotland, is about a Roman centurion (Channing Tatum) who travels beyond the empire's borders and into Scotland to solve the mystery of his father's vanished ninth legion, and to recover the "Eagle of the Ninth", which has fallen into enemy hands. He is joined by his slave (Jamie Bell), whose intentions are unclear.
The Eagle is a surprisingly entertaining adventure movie. It moves at a quick pace, has some legitimately constructed action sequences and is all around decent.
But The Eagle has two central problems.
One, Channing Tatum. I actually think Tatum is a decent actor when given the right material, but what could and needs to be a Roman epic is not that material. For most of the movie he uses his American accent, though in especially important scenes he whips out an odd, faint accent that has the negative effect of what was intended. Tatum is one of several actors who use an American accent in the movie, and there's just something wrong about American accents in period pieces such as this.
More importantly, the movie lacks an emotional center. It is first and foremost an adventure tale, drama, emotion and character development be damned. The Eagle is easy to watch but not overtly engaging, because none of the characters really matter. You want Tatum's character to succeed, but you don't really care. Jamie Bell's, you don't really care, either.
Compare that to Gladiator. You want Russell Crowe to succeed. You need him to succeed.
Not so in The Eagle. You just don't really care.
The Eagle, as a B-grade action adventure, is perfectly fine. It's got action, it's got story, it's got purpose. But when watching it, you can tell the filmmakers were striving for something more, and The Eagle is missing the elements necessary to take it there.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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