The Eagle is a fairly standard sword and sandals tale that eschews grandeur to concentrate on a more personal story. Although the themes seem rather simplistic at times, the film is entertaining nevertheless.
Marcus Aquila’s father was in charge of the Ninth Legion, of which all men vanished along with their gold emblem in the north of Britain. Now a centurion, Aquila is a skilled soldier but carries with him lingering thoughts about his father’s disappearance. When he hears rumours about the eagle’s whereabouts, Aquila travels with his slave Esca across Hadrian’s Wall to try and retrieve it…
The Eagle is less of an epic than a film such as Gladiator; the battle in Kevin MacDonald’s film appears not as wide-ranging. The focus is squarely on the personal in The Eagle. Aquila is concerned with restoring his father’s honour, and travels with only a slave instead of an army. The film provides no great surprises with its narrative, but there is enough drive and action to entertain audiences.
Jeremy Brock’s screenplay is perfectly suitable for the genre, although the dialogue can be a little hackneyed. Themes in The Eagle are stripped back to basics; the film concentrates on honour and trust. It does not really delve deeper than the surface into these issues. The relationship between Aquila and Esca is built upon these themes. There are definite homoerotic overtones, but these amount to all tease and no pay off, as perhaps is expected.
The battle scenes in the film are graphically violent. It seems that the filmmakers wanted to accentuate the violence of the period. The art direction and cinematography work well, generating a sense of harshness in the landscape that matches the brutality of the violence. The sound design is interesting; for the most part it is good, but veers towards overemphasis in the later battle sequences.
Performances in The Eagle are good overall. Channing Tatum makes a formidable soldier, he is certainly appropriately cast in terms of physique. Jamie Bell adds substance to the film as the slave Esca. He brings a solemnness to the character which is credible. Donald Sutherland plays the wizened old man well as Aquila’s uncle. All the Romans in the film speak with American accents; an unusual choice that is a little distracting at the beginning of the film.
The Eagle is not particularly remarkable or innovative, but it is a decent sword and sandals film. Fans of this genre are unlikely to be too disappointed by this offering.