Movie Review: The Eagle

The Eagle

2011 historical epic film directed by Kevin Macdonald, and starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, and Donald Sutherland

The Background

Twenty years after the ill-fated disappearance of the Ninth Legion, Marcus Flavius Aquila, played by heart throb Channing Tatum (White House Down, Magic Mike) comes south to avenge his father’s reputation because he was the head of the Ninth Legion. In a daring move during a Barbarian attack, Marcus charges a chariot and is grievously wounded. Although he is lauded for his efforts, and his soldiers are rewarded, he is discharged because of his wounds.

He is moved 200 leagues south to recover with his uncle, Aquila, played by Donald Sutherland (Pride and Prejudice, The Hunger Games). During his time at his uncle’s, he attends a gladiatorial game and spares the life of a slave, Esca, played by Jamie Bell (Nicholas Nickleby, Jane Eyre). He decides he has to restore his family’s honour and find the missing eagle standard. He takes Esca with him, who, although a Brigantes slave, is loyal because Marcus saved his life in the arena. They travel north of Hadrian’s Wall and that is when the story gets interesting. The meet a Roman survivor of the Ninth Legion, Guern//Lucius Caius Metellus, played by Mark Strong, (The Young Victoria, Sherlock Holmes). They finally find out what happened to the missing legion, and his father. Guern shows them the site where the soldiers fell, all their shields, armour and skulls. The first part of this movie was incredibly dull. Marcus’s recovery and flashbacks to his father and youth were boring. The story gets somewhat interesting once they get north of Hadrian’s Wall and encounter the Seal people.

The Review

Unfortunately, this movie also had a strong resemblance to “Centurion” in its “angry pseudo-celtic warriors get revenge on the evil Romans” plot and problematic historical inaccuracies. This movie could have been renamed: “G.I. Joe: The real Roman Hero” because it was basically US marines dressed in Roman costume fighting badly dressed, made-up “savages”. The Seal people were most likely modelled after the Selkies, a mythological tribe of shape shifters. This allowed the “Seal People” to be made up as the story went along. They were a horrible mash-up of Natives painted to look like “Avatar” who spoke Scots Gaelic; it was dreadful. The Seal People were violent, over the top parodies of Ancient Celts. It was a caricature of Celtic tribes that bordered on offensive with a depiction that may as well have been created in the 1950s. The Romans all have American accents, and bandy about modern terms like “honourable discharge” (a term that wasn’t used at all in the Roman period) on purpose to inject a modern twist to the story. It didn’t work; it sounded jarring, awkward and silly. The plot became ridiculous with the Seal people in hot pursuit of Marcus and Esca and the sudden appearance of the lost Ninth Legion to save the day like Gandalf and the Rohirrim at Helm’s Deep. It was truly campy and awful. Tatum plods through his lines and gives a very uninspiring performance as Marcus. Tatum delivered his lines like he couldn’t be bothered. The other characters were too annoying and forgettable to pay attention to for more than five minutes.

The only good thing about this movie (other than the end credits) was Jamie Bell, the only person in the film who can actually ACT. His performance as Esca was the most believable of any character onscreen. Lastly, I’m guessing I was supposed to be impressed with the use of Scots Gaelic in the movie by the actors to evoke that “Celtic” feel because of course everyone north of Hadrian’s Wall spoke the EXACT SAME dialect of Scots Gaelic, right? How cool was that?! Well, not very because it wasn’t true since the language wasn’t actually spoken in the second century. There are historical liberties and then there was… this movie. This film was only slightly better than Centurion and that isn’t saying much. I was really looking forward to watching this but it was such a let down on so many levels. Verdict: Stay away. Take that hour and a half and do something else. ~ Sandra

Peter’s Take

I think the script writer and director decided that this film would tell the story of Roman soldiers as if they were US Marines. Perhaps they believed that it would be more appealing for American audiences, but for the historian in me it made it almost unwatchable. There really is nothing in this movie that would correspond to what a Roman would say or think, and their Celtic enemies are just a figment of imagination rather than any semblance of what these people might have been like.

Meanwhile, the film also has its share of ‘cinema sins‘ such as when Marcus and Esca escape from the Seal People on horseback. Despite being a few hours behind the pair, the Seal warriors decide to chase them on foot – and they catch them! We also have a scene were the Celts attack the Roman wooden fortress, but Marcus and his men set the attackers on fire just below the walls. How this does not to lead to fortress burning down too?

I could go on, but I would rather say that this film is terrible. Unlike Sandra, I actually found Centurion to be better, but that isn’t a compliment on that film. Since both came out within a few months of each other, someone might want to do a comparison of the two films and how they portray Romans and Celts.

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