Saturday, November 9, 2013

Movie Review: The Eagle (2011)

How far should one go to recover a man's honor? For Marcus Flavius Acquila, a centurion, the answer was to go to the far northern end of the Roman world. We rarely talk about honor in our modern society today, it seems to be a quaint idea in today's jaded and brash culture. But in ancient Rome, family honor counted and one's place in life depended on it. The movie is set in second century Britain, where Marcus takes charge of a garrison in a remote Roman outpost, defending it against the surly and resentful natives. Marcus, asked for the command because he wants to find out what happened to his father and his command of 5000 centurions, a whole Roman league, that vanished in the wilds of Scotland, never to return and thereby tainting his family's honor. He soon experiences battle with the British barbarians and understands what his father and his men must have encountered. Wounded, he is sent home to recover, is recognized for his bravery and leadership by the Roman Senate, and to his great disappointment, discharged. Stung by a remark made by a young, insipid politician, he is determined to regain his father's and his family's honor by retrieving the lost league's battle emblem, a golden eagle. He is reluctantly aided in his quest by a British slave and together they discover the truth of the mystery of the lost 9th Roman League.

Relative newcomer, Channing Tatum, does a fine job of playing the haunted and determined Marcus. He is joined by the very talented, Jamie Bell, who plays his slave, Esca. Marcus saves Esca's life. Beholden to Marcus, Esca pledges his loyalty. Together they ride past Hadrian's wall into hostile territory of the British barbarians where Marcus must rely on Esca to find out what happened to the 9th Legion. During their journey, they come to a fragile truce and slight understanding of how their respective cultures have impacted the other's lives personally. Esca was the son of a tribal king who was killed during a fight to defend their lands against the Romans and was captured and brought to Rome as a slave. He hates the conquering Romans for violently disrupting his way of life.

The quest is frustrating and a fight erupts between the two when members of a fierce tribe come upon them. Marcus finds that they possess the golden eagle, steals it, and manages to successfully fight off the tribal warriors who come after them. The movie ably conveys the reach of Rome and how its famed Roman Legion is representative of Rome's high culture and civilization but at the same time is the cause of destruction of non-Roman worlds and peoples as it conquers new lands. There seem to be some political overtones as the Romans seem to be played by Americans or at least actors with American accents while the barbarians are played by Britons (what a role reversal!). However, the movie doesn't get very political, what it does well is to narrate a violent story of a clash of cultures and how those cultures are inherently more similar underneath the veneer of customs. It has the usual swordfights and clashes but it is not very bloody although you do glimpse a severed head. I thought the costumes and customs of the British natives were particularly interesting. The soundtrack has music that is reminiscent of what might be ancient Scots music. The movie is adapted from Rosemary Sutcliffe's novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, and runs approximately two hours and ten minutes and you find yourself totally immersed and learn a lot about the ancient Roman world and Roman Britain.

Originally published March 1, 2011

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