The Eagle
 
            It is a true historical fact that the ninth legion of the Roman army, numbering about 5,000 soldiers, completely vanished in 120 A.D.  The assumption is that those pesky Scottish clans (OK, their forebears, by whatever name) got together and summarily exterminated the infidel invaders, but the truth is, weíll never know exactly what happened.  The Roman Emperor Hadrian, wanting to protect his newest, and farthest, province, Britannia, ordered a stone wall built across the entire northern boundary with ď Caledonia ,Ē or, more simply, ďthe territory of the barbarians.Ē  Maybe it wasnít quite like building a wall across the entire boundary between the United States and Mexico today, but, perhaps in terms of relative resources required, and that far away from the capitol; itís a comparable engineering feat.
            In the film ďThe Eagle,Ē the narrative picks up 20 years later.  Rome is still at its zenith, and rules most of Europe, as well as parts of Africa and the Middle East .  Itís an astounding Empire.  And it can only be held together by a strong combination of an educated and democratic citizenry, an enormous slave population to provide cheap labor, an incredibly extensive system of roads, combined with prosperous commercial fishing throughout the Mediterranean Sea, taxation of subjects without exception (though allowing for some local administration), and the constant presence of a powerful, well-trained army.  Little wonder that Roman pride is a huge component of what holds the vast territories together.  And itís Roman pride that is severely wounded in the loss of the ninth legion, and its emblematic eagle.
            Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is a new cohort commander who asked for the Britannia assignment, though the other soldiers feel itís the end of the world (and from their point of view, it is).  Marcusí father was the commander of the lost ninth legion.  Marcus is determined to recover his familyís honor (and Rome ís) by finding the lost eagle insignia, and returning it to the capital in triumph.  But he quickly finds that serving in this outlaw territory requires more than a burning desire for vindication.  Though he leads his outnumbered legionnaires bravely against a maniacal foe, he is severely wounded in the melee, and receives an honorable discharge along with his battlefield commendation.  Undeterred, he embarks on a personal quest to travel into the no-manís-land of the ďnorthern territory,Ē accompanied only by Esca (Jamie Bell), his personal slave, whose life he saved, but he is a native Brit, and Marcus is sternly warned not to trust him.
            What follows is a quest that borders on pilgrimage.  They run into rogue warriors, hostile tribes, virgin territory unspoiled by the scars of civilization, and a lot of misinformation.  Eventually, almost miraculously, Marcus does discover the field of battle that claimed his father and the entire ninth legion, but it takes several twists of fate and circumstance to discover the truth.  Along the way, of course, Marcus and Esca discover much about themselves, and one another.
            So in the guise of an historical drama, itís really a buddy movie.  There arenít any women at all.  Itís all about swordfights and honor and pride and perseverance and hunting and tracking and other manly pursuits.  Itís dark and difficult and atavistic. But itís done well.  And it feels real.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas