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The Eagle (PG-13)

Drama 114 February 11, 2011
By J. Hoberman
The Eagle, directed by Kevin Macdonald and adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 historical novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, a bestselling tale of second-century Roman legions and youthful derring-do on the far side of Hadrian's Wall, is a thunderous boys' adventure of the old-school type—there's not a female speaking part in the entire movie. Neophyte general Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) assumes command of a British outpost just south of the wall, hoping to redeem his late father who had led the mighty Ninth Legion on a mission across Britannia's northern frontier into the misty realm the Romans called Caledonia. Marcus earns props by spearheading a clanging close-up battle against a mob of tribal Picts led by a prisoner-decapitating druid. Unfortunately, the wounds he suffers are so severe that he is discharged from service—thus creating a situation in which he must travel through the wild highlands to the realm of the aqua-tinted Seal People, accompanied only by his indigenous slave Esca (Jamie Bell). Native Glaswegian Macdonald attacks this material with evident gusto. The atmosphere is viscous: Corpses dangle from the trees to spook would-be Roman interlopers, and one almost expects to see a blue-faced Mel Gibson peeking out from behind a bush of wild mountain thyme. But the ethos of militarist patriotic patriarchy prevails: In the climactic Roman-Scottish fusion, anachronistic bagpipes bleat as Marcus calls the martial tune: "Fathers, brothers, sons . . . may your souls take flight and soar with the eagle."
Kevin Macdonald Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Donald Sutherland, Tahar Rahim Rosemary Sutcliff, Jeremy Brock Focus Features

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