In 2nd-Century Britain, celebrated Roman soldier Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) embarks on a dangerous quest to restore the tarnished reputation of his father and find the golden emblem that disappeared with him and thousands of troops twenty years earlier. But the highlands of Caledonia are a savage wilderness, and Marcus must rely on his embittered slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), to navigate the perilous region. Their journey pushes them beyond the boundaries of loyalty and betrayal, friendship and hatred, deceit and heroism. Donald Sutherland co-stars in this gripping, gritty, action-packed adventure from acclaimed director Kevin Macdonald.
Epic filmmaking has fallen out of favor, but The Eagle
fights hard to bring it back. Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) chose to lead a Roman garrison in occupied Britain because that's where his father lost a military standard--a metal eagle, representing the glory of imperial Rome--on an expedition into the northern wilds. To reclaim his family honor, Aquila sets off into native territory to recover the eagle, with only a slave named Esca (Jamie Bell) to help him--but the more Aquila learns about Esca's history, the more he has reason to doubt his slave's loyalty. The Eagle
starts with engaging momentum; this is a work of fiction, but there's an impressive commitment to the details of life, evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of a raw and brutal time. (Director Kevin Macdonald began as a documentarian, which no doubt contributes to his appreciation for grit and sweat.) Tatum is not the most versatile actor but he has enough solid charisma to anchor the movie; Bell's fluid emotional presence keeps their relationship dynamic. The movie loses steam in the last third, as the outcome is never really in doubt and the plot mechanics start to feel a bit rote. But for anyone with an interest in the era, or who simply enjoys a taste of blood and thunder, The Eagle
has pleasures aplenty. --Bret Fetzer