The Eagle is set in the second century when Rome occupied much of Britain. Not everyone backed down to the Romans. Many tribes in northern Britain refused to be under Roman rule and ruthlessly attacked Roman armies. This led to Rome essentially giving up on northern Britain and building Hadrian’s Wall, a Great Wall of China-esque wall that protected the south from north. Before the wall was built, the Ninth Legion of Rome ventured into northern Britain and never came back. Along with their disappearance, their symbol, a golden eagle, went missing as well. Honor was lost to the families of the Ninth Legion, not knowing how or why they died.
Centurion Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is the son of the leader of the Ninth Legion. Marcus was only a boy when his father disappeared. He has now joined the Roman army, and the movie starts out with him taking his first commanding position at a fort in Britain. Unfortunately, a Druid attack on the fort leaves him with a severe injury. (As an aside, the brief appearance of Lukács Bicskey as the Druid leader was haunting.) He is honorably discharged from the army and goes to stay with his uncle (Donald Sutherland). Marcus and his uncle attend a gladiator versus slave game, which ends with Marcus saving the slave. Eventually, the slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), becomes Marcus’ slave. Marcus still has the will to save his family’s honor and find out what happened to his father. He decides to take Esca beyond Hadrian’s wall to find the golden eagle of the Ninth.
The journey to find the golden eagle is the meat of the story. Both Esca and Marcus had to trust each other, even though Esca is only a slave. Northern Britain (Scotland) is not heavily inhabited at that time. It appeared to only have the occasional group of people or tribes, much of it still wilderness. While Marcus tries to hide that he was a Roman, and Esca would ask locals for information on the golden eagle in their native tongue, it was hard to suspend disbelief. Anyone who looks like Channing Tatum, tall, chiseled jaw, and muscular, would stand out like a sore thumb no matter how many cloaks he had on. If any person from that area had much common sense, that guy on the horse screamed Roman.
Of course, Marcus and Esca get found out by a native tribe. The tribe itself lives by the sea and the men clothe themselves in seal pelts. They also cover their body with what appears to be mud. I do not think anyone who sees this movie will not be reminded of the Native Americans. The leader of the tribe, played by Tahar Rahim, could easily be transplanted into Dances with the Wolves.
The whole point of the movie to get The Ninth’s golden eagle back. I was expecting a pretty hefty, large golden eagle to appear on screen. Unfortunately, a small, dinky golden eagle showed up instead. It was kind of a let down and seemed a little out of place considering the great honor it symbolized. I do not know if the golden eagle is historically to scale, or the production ran out of money.
Along with Donald Sutherland, other notable and recognizable actors also had roles in The Eagle. Mark Strong, Denis O’Hare, and Dakin Matthews appeared briefly on screen for their characters. The movie mostly kept the focus on Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell.
This is Channing Tatum’s first foray into a historical period piece, albeit a manly one. I was skeptical of his acting prowess when I first heard he was working on this film. I do not think he would be the first actor to come to mind for a project like The Eagle. He did remarkably well, considering I thought he would stick out like a sore thumb.
The Eagle is not what I expected. Films like Gladiator and Centurion sum up my expectations: bloody, graphic violence. The Eagle took the high road in most cases, and focused more on the story, rather than the battles and fights. I am sure most of it is due to the PG-13 rating. Guys are going to flock to this movie expecting the violence, but they may be disappointed. Their dates may be fearing the worst, but be pleasantly surprised by the movie. The Eagle is a good movie that was just missing something for me. The plot seemed too straightforward, and predictable. Complexity and twists and turns in the story could have produced a more satisfying ride.
I give The Eagle 3 “We aren’t in Kansas anymore” out of 5.