Mark Reviews Movies

THE EAGLE (2011)

1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Denis O'Hare, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for battle sequences and some disturbing images)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 2/11/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 10, 2011

I almost don't dare mention what some might consider the undertones of The Eagle, a perfectly mediocre swords-and-sandals at face value, except that they aren't disguised enough to be undertones. There is no way to avoid the simple observation that if it looks like a loving ode to fascism and sounds like a loving ode to fascism then, well, there's really only one conclusion to draw.

I don't invoke that sentiment lightly, and surely there is the obvious historical argument to be made that the appearance of straight-armed salutes and the titular Roman eagle are just accurate depictions of the symbolism of the period. It's never just about the symbols, though is it? The deification of iconography is only a symptom of the disease, and it is unabated in The Eagle. There is an unquestioning sort of nationalist, militaristic fervor very much on the surface of the movie, left undisputed and ultimately glorified.

It comes mostly from the movie's hero, a commander in the army of the Roman Empire named Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), a name shared with the Roman military standard—Rome is the eagle, the eagle is Rome, hence Marcus is Rome. His father was in charge of the infamous Ninth Legion, which, along with the bronze eagle of Rome, went missing 20 years prior in Northern Britain, and now Marcus is looking to restore his family's honor.

After bravely defending a fort from attack (All battle is clean and bloodless, in tune with praising it), Marcus is awarded a citation and an honorable discharge, spending his retirement with his uncle (Donald Sutherland). Still, the need for familial and personal respect ("Did I shame myself," he asks after surgery on his leg, instead of, say, "How's the leg?")  in the field of battle calls to him, and with the forced cooperation of his new slave Esca (Jamie Bell), whom Marcus saves from gladiatorial execution because he shows bravery (i.e., Throws his sword to the ground and refuses to fight), he travels past Hadrian's Wall to discover if his father died a hero or a coward and find the bronze eagle, his birthright and national pride.

Along the way, Marcus begrudgingly allows Esca to have a voice, since he originally came from the region—his father fought against Roman occupation before dad, brother, and mother died because of it. Marcus is dense and, like any person blindly motivated by ideology, doesn't take in any of Esca's protests about whether the massive slaughter of a group of people based on their location, customs, and language is justified.

Then again, Marcus can hardly stomach the thought of Esca's assertion that the cold-blooded murder of children might not be the best option. This happens on two occasions: The first when a group of bandits ambush the pair, leading Marcus to throw a knife into the back of a young, unarmed boy trying to escape, while the second occurs as the duo is about to sneak out of the camp they've infiltrated, when a young boy could awaken the rest of the tribe. Marcus appears physically pained at Esca's insistence that the boy can be trusted and maybe shouldn't have his throat slit.

Not that it does the boy much good, since later he does have his throat slit by his own people for the perceived betrayal of his tribe. Marcus, Esca, and a group of shamed Roman legionnaires (Which is worse to Marcus, that they fled an unsurvivable ambush or started new lives with the "savages," is open to interpretation) led by Guern (Mark Strong) stand by—ready to attack—and watch as it happens before charging toward their enemies. It's not until Marcus sees that these "Painted People" of the Seal tribe are just as blood-thirsty about the preservation of their own national honor and pride as he is that he recognizes their right to have it (The fact they've all died in battle and can't possess anything anymore helps). It also helps Marcus recognize their basic humanity when he washes away the paint on one warrior's face (as he drowns the soldier) and learns the enemy has the same flesh tone as himself.

There is the possibility that the sinister underpinnings of the material simply went unnoticed by director Kevin Macdonald and writer Jeremy Brock (adapting one of a series of books by Rosemary Sutcliff), so it's difficult to condemn or fault anyone without more information. Whatever happened, The Eagle is a despicable movie, made easier only by the fact that it's so pedestrian.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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