The Eagle

28 02 2011

FLIES TOO LOW TO THE GROUND

I had high hopes for The Eagle. The trailer promised a thrilling rescue mission set during Roman rule of Britain. While it does have some exciting moments, The Eagle flies short of the lofty goals that it sets for itself.

In the 2nd century A.D., a Roman legion goes missing during an incursion into the dangerous, unexplored areas of northern Britain. The legion commander’s son, Marcus (Channing Tatum) arrives in the province many years later. Although he has been promoted to commander of a Roman fort, his primary goal is to reveal the mysterious details of his father’s disappearance.

Channing Tatum stars in The Eagle

This backdrop has the potential for greatness, but The Eagle quickly shows several fundamental flaws.

The Eagle’s most glaring issue is the obviousness of its characters and plot. The characters pronounce their feelings and the outcomes of their actions rather than letting the audience easily arrive at their own conclusions. For example, when one character redeems his family’s name through a heroic act, his mentor proclaims, “Your family’s good name is restored!”

While the plot takes some minor twists, it ends up being too straightforward and predictable. The action entirely follows Marcus and Esca (Jamie Bell), with few relevant or interesting supporting characters.

This leads to another problem: the acting. When the actors are angry, they yell and scowl at each other; when they are sad, they go quiet. When they wish to express their inner feelings, they speak outwardly. The actors speak too many words at a time when few, if any, are needed, and it ends up feeling fake.

Most importantly, the battle scenes – an integral part of any historical action movie – are incomprehensible. As an audience member, it’s extremely frustrating to watch a sword fight take place from awkward, close angles. This would not be a problem if the focus was on the emotions of the characters, but the camera is far too jolted. The audience is left with a hazy deluge of action.

The first major battle, which takes place in a Roman fort at night, is a series of unintelligible sword thrusts and painful screams. Apparently, the Romans win, due in large part to Marcus’s heroism in fighting off the “evil” Britons.

Evil is in quotation marks because it is difficult to empathize with the Romans, who have viciously colonized the tribal peoples of Britain.  This controversy should have at least been addressed, but The Eagle leaves the subject largely untouched. The audience is left wondering who the good and bad guys are while the movie decides for them.

The positive aspects of The Eagle do not outweigh the negatives. Nevertheless, the costume design is terrific and creative. There are many scenes filled with people in full battle array – Roman armor, tribal clothing, and the like. Whether historically accurate or not, the audience gets an interesting glimpse into the culture of the ancient tribes of Britain.

The tragedy of The Eagle has little to do with its plot, but rather with the lost opportunity for greatness: there is potential for an epic movie here, but it gets lost along the way. This Eagle, unfortunately, stays close to the ground.

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