The Eagle is the greatest romance never told. And I don’t mean that in the sense of those horrible “trailers” they do for romance novels. I mean, this film clearly should have been a love story. This film clearly should have been a lot of things, and kind of feels like the dregs of various breakfast cereals mooshed together in a single bowl and called a meal. It wanted desperately to be a brutal war film, a buddy cop movie, a tragic period piece, a greasers vs. socs private school showdown, and a young soldier redeeming his family name. It’s none of those things. It’s a bromosexualized romance without the deep dicking the two characters so richly deserve. The Eagle certainly would have made a fuck of a lot more sense if the two leads had an unrequited mutual love that forced their passions to ignite in a quest to revive the good family name. Instead, it’s a really awkward game of capture the flag — only instead of a flag, it’s a giant golden eagle. I get it, historical accuracy and whatnot, the standard is so important for morale. But for a wounded soldier and his resentful slave to disappear over Hadrian’s Wall on a quest that’s been two decades in the making? It tried to be Cold Mountain when it should have been Brokeback Mountain. But that’s a lot to expect from a movie whose marketing strategy seemed to be to water itself down to a pitiful PG-13 version in order to catch the spillover from the new Adam Sandler and Justin Bieber films this weekend.
The Eagle is the kind of movie that the government screens to get idiots to join the army. Now, I’m not saying that everyone who joins the army is an idiot. I’m saying that rather than wanting to join the rich honorable tradition of patriotic defense of America, there are some people who register because they beat the America’s Army videogame in the lobby of Fuddrucker’s and were duped by the Kid Rock video in the pre-movie commercial block. It’s such a meaty, sweaty mess barking brotherhood and honor at every turn. Even though the film itself is structured exactly like every bodice-ripping period piece ever to grace your older aunt’s nightstand.
In 140 AD, Flavius Aquila took the Ninth legion, under their golden Eagle standard, into the mountains of Caledonia (modern day Scotland) where they disappeared. Furious, Roman Emperor Hadrian demanded the construct of a wall to block off Northern Briton from rest of the Roman Empire. Twenty years later, Aquila’s son, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) arrives at the garrison to restore the honor of the family name. Here’s the Denzel Washington portion of the film — where a brash young upstart with bold intentions arrives on the scene to impress everyone in the course of one battle. The old salts grumble when he sends out a patrol to find the grain shipment, and when he wakes them up in the middle of the night, preternaturally predicting the battle. Somehow, Marcus is deemed a tactical genius, because he woke everyone up when he heard a noise and dug a big pitch filled pit lined with sharpened sticks.
When the Britons arrive with their leader, a batshit crazy warpriest who looks like David Straithairn auditioning for the Prop 8 Musical with Jack Black, Marcus goes out to save the patrol after Jeezy Creezy perhapicapitates him. I say this because the entire film is filled with these clanging and grunting battle sequences where you just out of the shot something spectacularly bloody happens. The afforementioned spikes lining the fortress are never utilized on screen. When the patrol leader gets “beheaded” we never see the actual act, we cut to the anguished faces of his countrymen and the angry face of Channing Tatum. It’s one of three faces he will utilize during the film: angry face, sad face, and empty face. I’ve railed before about the mediocre violence of the PG-13 warflick. When Disney’s PG Alice In Wonderland remake is more gruesome than your movie, you’re doing it wrong.
The battle sequences play out like rejected Capital One commercials. Marcus is gravely injured, using some of that boffo tactical genius to throw a spear at the driver of the Caledonia leader’s chariot, which then apparently causes a scene cut. Marcus must recuperate at the estate of his uncle, Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland). This is the “Rich Kids Say Fuck Yeah” portion of the film. It’s brief. We meet senators and other Romans of influence, one of whom is a son whose sole purpose is to make a fartface about slaves and insult Marcus’s father’s failure, which will happen at least once every twenty minutes for the rest of the interminable two hour film. Marcus has been discharged from service because of his injury. So now he hangs around wearing his sad face and lamenting. This involves going to see a gladiator battle.
Spartacus has spoiled me for all combat. Without digital blood, I can’t be bothered to give a shit. And apparently, in South Briton, combat involves a midget whacking a giant with a wooden sword until they get to the one fight to the death. Enter Esca (Jamie Bell), a Briton prisoner forced to battle to the death. So they pit scrawny him against a massive Clay Matthews sized side of beef gladiator, much to the dismay of Donald Sutherland, the crowd, and anyone still not asleep at this point. Esca’s battle strategy seems to involve dropping his weapons and standing in the face of the gladiator, presumably to die quickly. The gladiator beats the shit out of him with his shield, while the crowd boos. And then they all want him to die, since this is the only “to the death” battle on the agenda. Instead, Marcus leaps to his feat and gives a Facebook worthy thumbs up, chanting that he should live, placating like Al Gore trying to get people to realize he’s “super serial” about environmental disaster and Manbearpig. Somehow, this stirs the bloodthirsty and disappointed crowd to go along and spare the waif. I’d sooner believe a NASCAR crowd would cheer if the pace car won Daytona.
It is this act that makes Esca fiercely loyal to Marcus, loyal enough to join him as he convinces everyone to let him go over Hadrian’s Wall on a solo mission to recapture the Eagle. (Every time I say the word “eagle” I hope you are hearing the Colbert screech. Cause that’s my intent.) Apparently, the Seal Tribe, commanded by the Seal Prince (Tahar Rahim, the lead from A Prophet), has the Eagle and is using it in secret ceremonies. If you were wondering where the actual Sokka from The Last Airbender was, here. He was hiding in this shitty movie. The rest of the movie is spent riding horses and giving longing glances.
I cannot believe that this film came from Kevin Macdonald and Jeremy Brock, the same team that created The Last King of Scotland. Again, if Marcus and Esca started to fall for each other — a fiery hate turns into a passionate love — the motivations of the film would have made total sense and would have been a much braver and more intelligent movie. Instead, it grunts and heaves like a chain of fraternity brothers elephant walking, whispering into the shoulder of the naked man whose penis he’s grasping that it’s totally not gay, it’s about brotherhood and honor and tradition. The Spartans buttfucked each other and weren’t nearly as bromosexual as these two fellas.
It wouldn’t matter, because the film desperately needed better actors. There’s a time and a place for Channing Tatum, and it’s not leading this film with his dead shark eyes. Seriously, look into his face. It’s all pupil. There’s no intelligence. Only, the hunger. I don’t exactly know what gypsy caravan Jamie Bell desecrated to earn the horrendous career path he’s taken since Billy Elliot, but please, Drusilla, he’s paid three times over. He’s become the poor man’s Rupert Grint. Donald Sutherland has entered that glorious phase of his career where he can pretty much do whatever the fuck he wants — which truth be told has been most of his career — and he’s just smiling and soft-talking his way through his brief scenes. Mark Strong pops up in long hair. Forget he’s in the film, he will the second the paycheck clears. And I apologize for mentioning Tahir Rahim’s name. At least he’s got an awesome picture for his IMDB page.
The Eagle is a watered down version of Braveheart. The Eagle is a watered down version of Centurion. The Eagle is “Spartacus” if it were on PAX. (SPOILER ALERT: This movie is spoiled. But I’m ruining the ending only for the four people who wandered on to our page from Google and have never seen a movie before. Welcome. Get out.) When Marcus and Esca return with the Eagle in hand, I honestly expected to see him handing it to a modern day general in Marines dress and then cut back to show him standing on a fiery digitalized mountaintop wearing the Marine dress uniform, while 3 Doors Down jams in the background. Because it had all the heart and charisma of those U.S. Marines commercials. I suspect that a studio head Pearl Harbor-ed this down to the moistened tissue PG-13 version, and that somewhere there exists and blood fountaining, spike impaled version of this film in a director’s cut. But even that couldn’t have saved the film from it’s own sexual insecurities.