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Friday, April 8, 2011

The Eagle

No. Just no.


From Channel24.co.za (Originally posted 8 April 2011)


What it's about:

A young Roman centurion, Marcus Aquila (played by Channing Tatum), loses his place as a commander in the frontlines of his conquering empire after severely injuring his leg in battle. It's not long, however, before he and a slave (Jamie Bell) who owes him his life embark on an even more important mission: to go in search for the long-vanished, legendary Ninth Legion. Braving uncharted lands and hostile tribes, the two men hope to solve the mystery of the lost legion, recover the golden eagle that is of great symbolic importance to Rome and perhaps even restore the disgraced honour of Marcus' father.  

What we thought:

I'm not exactly certain just what kind of film The Eagle was trying to be, but whatever genre it was aiming for, it simply doesn't work. As a serious historical epic, it needed to be smarter, deeper and a whole lot less dodgy in its dialogue and its storytelling. As a swashbuckling adventure film, it very desperately needed to be a lot more fun. And as a simple piece of filmmaking, it needed to be anything other than the dreary, drab and dull mess that it is.

The film certainly has its strengths in that it is adequately put together and is based on a plot that at least gestures towards something that could be interesting and exciting. Plus, while the acting in the film never rises much above "barely average" and constantly dips way below that, Jamie Bell and Mark Strong do their best with weak material.

And it is weak material. The characters in the film are lacking in both personality and dimension and the friendship that develops  between the two main characters over the film is frankly unbelievable. The plot itself is, as I mentioned, fine enough but it unfolds in such a way that it actually becomes less engaging with each plot development and action set piece. 

As for the dialogue, it's stilted and bland in and of itself but it becomes truly cringe-worthy when spoken in an American accent. Jamie Bell and Mark Strong are very fine actors, to be sure, but they have a distinct advantage over their American co-stars in that their flat English accents at least vaguely fit the style of dialogue that the film employs. Channing Tatum fares especially badly as he struggles to bring such already mediocre dialogue to life with an accent that could not sound more out of place. We already have vaguely antiquated English standing in for, presumably, Latin and maybe Gaelic but add in American accents and it's impossible not be removed from the time and place that the film is trying to capture. 

Director Kevin Macdonald has done some fine work in the past with his cinematic adaptation of the BBC miniseries State of Play and, more notably, the award-winning The Last King of Scotland. The Eagle will be lucky to go down as so much as a footnote in his career and deservedly so. It's a stodgy, uninvolving piece of cinema that constantly had me hoping that Asterix & Obelix or, better yet, the Monty Python crew would come along to save me from this dreadfully boring cast of cod-Romans and interminably dull storytelling. 


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