Awash with sweeping shots of pictorial landscapes amidst meditative moments of battlefield bonding, The Eagle searches for deep drama while cloaking itself in grand adventure. Despite the fairly laughable American-accented dialogue, this Roman period piece nearly achieves the kind of cross-genre success of, say, Gladiator, yet it inevitably meanders too often when it should move. The action, viscerally shot in the all-too-familiar shaky-cam style, is bloodless, as is the emotion. In the place of iconic heroism, audiences are handed moment upon moment of static dialogue scenes packed with jaw-muscle flexing. In fact, probably the best thing that could come out of The Eagle would be a drinking game based around all the face flexing of stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell.
Adapted from one of the best-selling children's books of the 20th century, author Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth, the film theorizes what happened to the infamous Ninth Legion -- the feared Roman squad that vanished in Scotland in early 100 A.D. Based on the theory that the troops fell to the indigenous Pict tribes, the tale follows a former Roman soldier (Tatum) on his way north to investigate what happened to his father, the commander of the squad, as well as recover the troop's golden Eagle statue. Alongside him stands Esca (Bell), a slave whose own loyalty is torn between his fallen British ancestors and Tatum, his new owner.
It's not as if The Eagle is bad -- but it's truly hard to say that it's all that great. The film has been competently created, with much detail going into location-scouting and atmosphere -- thanks in part to the way that cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle captures the surroundings (echoing his fog-filled work in Lars von Trier's Antichrist more than once). It's possible that The Last King of Scotland's Kevin Macdonald just wasn't up to snuff when directing adventure fare. Comparatively, the pulpiness of Neil Marshall's Centurion trumps The Eagle's classy route while dealing with nearly the same material. Given what they had to work with, the flick could have easily been spookier, grittier, and more visceral if it were less concerned with selling the story through character rather than action. Funnily enough, Tatum, a cut-rate thesp if there ever was one, isn't all that bad. Then again, not much was asked of him beyond making his cheeks twitch. If period adventure is what you're looking for, check out the aforementioned Centurion -- or better yet, just skip to the Vikings and dig into John McTiernan's 13th Warrior. Both are ten times more rousing and feature a lot less mugging for the camera.