Movies At Home: The Eagle
Many who have seen The Eagle claim that it bogs down in the middle, when our Roman legionarie protagonist wanders into the wilds of ancient Scotland searching for the standard of the fabled Ninth Legion that was decimated there twenty years earlier. But this is where the film is at its best, as it takes advantage of the “journey” phase of its plot to immerse the viewer in an otherworldly land of dense mists, alien peoples, and lost histories. It’s also where the film can drop away from its clunky script and let the landscape and the period to which it is so faithful take over, as Anthony Dod Mantle’s beautifully foreboding cinematography does more to evoke the response this films seems to be going for than its inferior writing ever could.
Career documentarian Kevin McDonald knows how to shoot a scene and he knows how to give his actors space to breathe (perhaps too much space, given the leads’ limitations), but his best efforts of craft just cannot raise the film above its utterly pedestrian script. The story, based on the terrific novel Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, should be much more engrossing than the script allows it to be, and although Channing Tatum isn’t terrible in the lead and puts forth the requisite amount of square-jawed resolve, the onscreen talent just can’t do much with such mediocre material. Political allusions are far too on-the-nose, later chase scenes lack the visceral impact of the mystery-shrouded wanderings, and the talk frequently comes off wooden and heartless. It’s a shame, because while there are moments of dark surreality and wonderful evocations of place that recall great films like The New World, this could be so much more than just a decent period flick exploring a fascinating piece of European history.