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The Eagle Is Par For the Course For Roman Epics

The Eagle
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Written by Jeremy Brock from the novel The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
Focus, 2011

It’s kind of hard to figure how a testosterone-drenched movie like The Eagle comes out on Valentine’s Day weekend, a traditionally female-driven time frame.  Perhaps it’s the good-ol’ counter-programming to this weekend’s Just Go With It.  But I have a bit more of a cynical reason.  I think the studio looked at Channing Tatum and the surprise hit Dear John from a year before and basically said: Tatum + Valentine’s Day = Box Office Gold.  They probably even included Step Up 2: The Streets, for which he only had a cameo, but threw that in as solid proof that The Eagle should release this weekend.

So here we are: Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, a sturdy Roman warrior in the days Rome ruled Britain.  He shows his leadership in the foothold of a fort, gets injured, and is given tons of awards for it, plus an honorable discharge, which is like telling Brett Favre he can’t play football anymore.  Still, he believes there’s something he can do for his people, and he wants to retrieve a golden eagle that was lost in a battle in crazy North Britain, a place Romans fear to tread because 5000 soldiers went there and vanished, one of them was Marcus’ father.  They built a wall at the border and called it The End of the World.  Of course, no one in the hierarchy wants him to go, but eventually say, “Fuck it,” and just let him.

Along for the ride is a slave that owes Marcus his life, one Esca (Jamie Bell), who is a Briton and could prove dangerous to Marcus on the other side, but he seems trustworthy.  It’s not long before the indigenous peoples start attacking, and before long, Marcus is the one who is a slave, and Esca is the master.  But we all know Esca has to play along or both would be killed.   Someone around here knows where that damn eagle is.

It’s really not all bad.  The scene at the beginning where Marcus gives the order to wake his soldiers in the middle of the night based on suspicious sounds, threatening to cast doubts on him as a leader if he’s wrong, is filled with suspense.  However, I’m beginning to believe that directors take far too easy a way out on action scenes.  I think many might know how to make an action scene, but either don’t have the resources or the patience, and let’s face it, might not have the talent to pull off.  Almost every action scene you see in this movie and any other generic action picture focuses on getting tons of close-ups, and I think it’s because in editing, it’s easier to cover mistakes.  At the same time, we can’t see anything that is going on and personally, I’m taken out of action scenes when I don’t have a sense of place or perspective.

I’ve probably written this a hundred times or so on this site, but I think the excuse for this shoddy battle staging is, “Well, battle is confusing, so that’s what we’re going for,” and unfortunately that’s the kind of unified mindset we have with many action directors now.  This guy, Kevin Macdonald, made a splash with The Last King of Scotland and parlayed that into State of Play in 2009.  So he’s not a big action veteran; maybe he’s still learning that, but I don’t have faith really.  Why construct a coherent scene when you can hide behind close-ups and quick editing?

If you’re really hating Just Go With It, and you will, this is a decent alternative.

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