Discover more from (All (Parentheses))
Time Out New York Project: Issue #800, February 10-16, 2011
Dir. Kevin Macdonald. 2011. PG-13. 111mins. Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland.
Do you like movies about gladiators? Well, lend me your ears: The Eagle will more than gratify your sword-and-sandal cravings. Roman centurion Marcus Aquila (Tatum, whose abs are as adoringly key-lit as Joan Crawford’s peepers) is sent to the British boondocks to command a corps. He’s the offspring of an infamous general who, it’s rumored, abandoned his soldiers in battle and lost their precious standard: a golden eagle. Marcus’s troops therefore look skeptically upon him (like father, like son?), until he valiantly proves himself. But the price of such heroism is an injury that results in an honorable discharge — an embarrassing fate for a young military man. Then Marcus hears whispers that the lost eagle has been seen up north, in the no-man’s-land beyond Hadrian’s Wall. So off he sets, with his faithful slave, Esca (Bell), in tow.
What follows is a beautifully executed piece of pulp fiction, possessed of the stripped-down momentum of Neil Marshall’s Centurion (which it most resembles), without that film’s self-satisfied B-movie pretenses. The choice to have American actors play the conquering Romans gives the story the right amount of modish allegorical kick, while Tatum and Bell are perfectly paired. They know just how far to push the master-servant dynamic, and the attendant eroticism, without succumbing to too-cool-for-school bromantic irony. There are a few missteps — namely, too much of Anthony Dod Mantle’s jitter-cam during battle sequences and some stray moments of let’s-go-native exoticizing after Marcus and Esca are captured by the warmongering Seal People. These latter scenes, in particular, recall the borderline-racist hash director Kevin Macdonald made of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland (he should stick to historical fantasy), though they’re scattered enough that the movie’s many virtues reign supreme.—Keith Uhlich
Thanks for reading (All (Parentheses))! To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.