THE EAGLE (2011)

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim, Denis O'Hare, Jon Campling
RunTime: 1 hr 54 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: PG
Official Website:

Opening Day:
31 March 2011

Synopsis: In 2nd-Century Britain, two men - master and slave - venture beyond the edge of the known world on a dangerous and obsessive quest that will push them beyond the boundaries of loyalty and betrayal, friendship and hatred, deceit and heroism...The Roman epic adventure The Eagle is directed by Kevin Macdonald and produced by Duncan Kenworthy. Jeremy Brock has adapted the screenplay from Rosemary Sutcliff's classic novel The Eagle of the Ninth.

In 140 AD, the Roman Empire extends all the way to Britain - though its grasp is incomplete, as the rebellious tribes of Caledonia (today's Scotland) hold sway in the far North. Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) arrives in Britain, determined to restore the tarnished reputation of his father, Flavius Aquila. It was 20 years earlier that Rome's 5,000-strong Ninth Legion, under the command of Flavius and carrying their golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth, marched north into Caledonia. They never returned; Legion and Eagle simply vanished into the mists. Angered, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of a wall to seal off the territory; Hadrian's Wall became the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire - the edge of the known world.

Driven to become a brilliant soldier and now given command of a small fort in the southwest, Marcus bravely leads his troops during a siege. Commended by Rome for his bravery, yet discharged from the army because of his severe wounds, Marcus convalesces, demoralized, in the villa of his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland), a retired army man. When Marcus impulsively gets a young Briton's life spared at a gladiatorial contest, Aquila buys the Briton, Esca (Jamie Bell), to be Marcus' slave. Marcus is dismissive of Esca, who harbors a seething hatred of all things Roman. Yet Esca vows to serve the man who has saved his life.

Hearing a rumor that the Eagle has been seen in a tribal temple in the far north, Marcus is galvanized into action, and sets off with Esca across Hadrian's Wall. But the highlands of Caledonia are a vast and savage wilderness, and Marcus must rely on his slave to navigate the region. When they encounter ex-Roman soldier Guern (Mark Strong), Marcus realizes that the mystery of his father's disappearance may well be linked to the secret of his own slave's identity and loyalty - a secret all the more pressing when the two come face-to-face with the warriors of the fearsome Seal Prince (Tahar Rahim).

Movie Review:

Director Kevin Macdonald had Forest Whitaker to work with in The Last King of Scotland (2006), and was blessed with a fine ensemble cast which included Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck and Helen Mirren in his last Hollywood outing State of Play (2009).

Here, the Scottish director’s leading man is Channing “Dear John” Tatum. 

What do we get as a result of that uninspired casting? An equally uninspired Roman epic adventure that brings with it more bore than excitement. Adapted by Jeremy Brock from Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical adventure novel The Eagle of the Ninth and based on the supposed disappearance of the Ninth Spanish Legion in Britain, this British American co production tells the story of a young Roman soldier who goes on a journey to honour his father by finding his lost legion’s golden emblem – the eagle.

It doesn’t really matter whether you are familiar with this piece of history, because the movie is marketed as an action adventure featuring, well, action and adventure. The boys may be all excited about the violence and blood, but the girls have a reason to watch this too – the good looking leading men. Tatum, who has shown the world how charming he is in movies like Step Up (2006) and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), is the protagonist here: See him brood and emote in the 114 minute movie, that is, if you are not bothered by his expressionlessly tiresome acting. The well built star has little to offer here except his good looks, and of course, his good bod. He has every reason to don those Roman inspired costumes so that girls could swoon over how handsome he looks.

Elsewhere, we are looking out for Jamie Bell, who is best known for playing the very likeable titular character in Billy Elliot (2000). Besides bit roles in Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Jumper (2008), the English actor hasn’t been in the limelight since his outstanding performance a decade ago. Here, he outshines his co star Tatum as a British slave. Bell shows us how he has grown as an actor here by quietly portraying a slave who detests Rome for what it is but still bound to his master who saved his life. Other commendable performances come from supporting actors Donald Sutherland (The Mechanic, Reign Over Me) and Mark Strong (Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes).

But alas, these fine performances are not enough to save this supposedly appealing action adventure. No, not even the sweeping cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle which transports us to the lush and picturesque landscapes of Hungary and Scotland, nor the swelling music by Atli Orvarsson which brings us to an era long forgotten by mankind, could salvage the evidently mind numbing production the filmmakers have put together here.

When the movie concludes with a less than impressive ending, you know that this may pass off as easy viewing on a boring weekend, but no way is it going to create an impact like a certain Roman epic adventure Gladiator (2000) did.

Movie Rating:

(No thanks to the buff and brawny Channing Tatum, this is one exasperatingly tedious action adventure )

Review by John Li

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