‘The Eagle’ soars
It’s turning out to be a great year for movies. “The Eagle” has a solid plot, two well-defined main characters, breathtaking environments, and an attention to detail that will please even the most pedantic history buff.
Adapted from a 1950s children’s book titled “The Eagle of the Ninth,” the movie’s script translated the story very well to film, and while there are certain artifacts that betray the book’s original target audience, the movie is as enjoyable for adults as it would be for young boys.
The movie follows Roman legionnaire Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) trying to reclaim his father’s honor, in the form of a lost, symbolic golden eagle, in ancient Britain.
The combat scenes at the start of the film pulled me into the movie. Their excellent choreography and the historically sound depiction of a Roman legion’s melee tactics (down to the correct stabbing use of a Roman gladius and great shield!) were stunning.
And as an amateur linguist, I also appreciated the outstanding effort that went into depicting the ancient language of the northern Celtic tribes.
Technical details aside, “The Eagle” tells a fairly common adventure story, with convincing motives. Marcus seeks a sacred Roman icon that his father lost deep in enemy lands, and his slave Esca (Jamie Bell) is torn between a vendetta against Rome and repaying Marcus for saving his life.
The acting was outstanding, and I never once questioned the motive behind a character’s action. When Esca reverses roles with Marcus and claims him as a slave among the northern Celtic tribes, the actors and script writer (Jeremy Brock) kept me from guessing whether the betrayal had been genuine (movies don’t keep me guessing very often); Bell made Esca’s decision to remain true to his friend, rather than to his country, seem like the nearly impossible choice it should have been.
The few criticisms I have lie in some of the later combat scenes and in the ending.
Once away from his legion, Marcus proves a capable brawler and a downright frightening combatant vs. multiple opponents. Since there’s no character-specific reason why this should be, other than the meta-film idea that a male protagonist must be a total badass, I can only identify it as a minor hole in the character’s construction. While Marcus would have had training as a Roman legionnaire, that would have made him the exceptional group-oriented tactical fighter seen in the start of the movie, rather than the fighting superman seen later.
I also have mixed feelings about the ending. Marcus frees Esca, which makes sense, but then Esca, who talks throughout the movie about his hatred for the Romans, seemingly integrates into Roman culture. There isn’t a strong argument for Esca being effectively exiled by betraying a Celtic tribe. Those tribes were hardly at peace, and there would have most certainly been groups that had no idea he had ever been to Rome, let alone betrayed a Celtic tribe. Esca’s final acceptance of Marcus as a friend, and of Rome as a place to live, felt far, far too easy.
I’m also not against a completely happy ending for the two protagonists, but I think that it was such an unlikely ending that it needed a short scene, somewhere in the final few minutes, to justify it.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the incredible romanticism of the ending, this movie is one of 2011’s must-see films.