Harmless enough entertainment that misses a trick or two

2011-04-11 00:00

THE Eagle is the story of a young Roman soldier, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), whose guiding principle is honour. Driven by memories of his father, he sets off to find the golden eagle emblem lost by his father and his vanquished legion in the wild territories of Caledonia beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Structured in the form of the hero’s journey, the film plays out somewhat predictably, unwilling to venture beyond the bounds of its genre. In fact it takes the safest path possible, referencing prior sword-and-sandal epics like Gladiator and Braveheart even in its small details and its desaturated, high-contrast look. Yes, the director can be credited with doing his research, but the film is worse off for not attempting its own revisions, like the mini-series Rome.

The film replaces the requisite romantic overlay of many Hollywood pictures with another staple in the form of the buddy picture. Marcus Aquila acquires a slave who pledges his life to the Roman and it is this master-and-slave relationship that forms the basis of the film’s major twist around the halfway mark.

The relationship lacks the subtleties to make it anything more than a convenient plotting device as are other plot points that stretch the imagination a little. This is particularly evident in the third act where the film attempts to tie up the loose ends. The story runs cleanly and with pace, but lacks vitality.

In terms of performance, Channing Tatum has screen presence, but he is given little to do beyond brooding about the eagle and battling the hordes. Donald Sutherland makes a welcome appearance as Marcus Aquila’s uncle and mentor counterweighting the heavy load that honour presents to Marcus. Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot fame plays the slave as well as he can. Overall the characters are unable to transcend the archetypes.

The Eagle is not bad and is harmless enough entertainment.

This said, I do feel the makers missed a trick by rigidly following the typical genre pattern. In golfing terms this wouldn’t be an eagle; rather it would be par for the course. ***

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