THE EAGLE comes to us from director Kevin Macdonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, STATE OF PLAY) and stars Channing Tatum (G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS) and Jaime Bell (KING KONG, JUMPER). This film is an adaptation of the 1954 novel titled THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH written by Rosemary Sutcliff. THE EAGLE takes place in 140 AD in Roman-ruled Britain and tells the tale of the young Marcus Aquila (Tatum) as he sets off to discover the truth of his fathers defeated legion and recover the golden eagle that was lost in order to regain his family’s (and Rome’s ) honor. The golden eagle is a symbol for everything Rome has accomplished and his father lost it, along with over 5,000 soldiers, in a battle in the North of Britain. Besides losing the eagle itself, the name Aquila has since lost it’s honor and the only way to reclaim it is to retrieve the eagle in uncharted enemy territory. Aquila soon sets off with his British slave Esca (Bell) who knows the lands well but cannot be fully trusted due to the rift between Rome and Britain.
While I am very much interested in Roman history, the story in THE EAGLE is less about historical accuracies and more about human nature and the bonds we share with friends, family and our enemies. This film is a wonderful character piece that is full of interesting historical references, beautiful landscapes, wonderful acting by the leads and co-stars, some intense and well choreographed action sequences, and some truly engaging and deep characters who are tested to their absolute limits. This film is relatively low on most peoples radar and you may not have even heard of it until now. Let me assure you that this film deserves to be seen by the masses and is a great time at the theaters.
The pacing of the story here is fantastic. There really is never a dull moment in this film because in between the great action scenes and beautiful landscapes are wonderful character interactions that keep the narrative fresh and always moving forward. It may sound funny to some, but I am really becoming a fan of Channing Tatum. I often hear people say he is dull and lacks the charisma needed to be a leading man, but I say he has more than enough talent to be a leading man and find him more stoic than dull. He really does have a great screen presence here and I really felt for the guy and found myself rooting for his cause throughout the entire film. I wanted to see him succeed and had a good connection to him. Jamie Bell is also a wonderful actor who shines here as the hopeless slave who is bound by his word. Tatum and Bell play off one another so well here that neither steal the show. Instead we get two powerful performances that compliment the other through the entire film. I also must mention the small but totally awesome role of Guern played by Mark Strong (KICK-ASS, SHERLOCK HOLMES) who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. I don’t want to give away his role too much, but let me assure you he is a bad ass and his addition was a nice touch.
This film is seemingly being marketed almost exclusively as an action movie and not leading one to think it is also a historical drama with great characters and some true depth. I hesitate to call it simply an “action” movie due to the negative connotations of that label, but I must say there is a crap ton of action in this one and it is pretty fantastic and exhilarating to watch. I am a firm believer that any action scene is heightened tenfold if you actually care about the characters in battle. While the action is not the best I’ve seen, it feels so much more powerful because I am invested in these characters and genuinely connect with them and want to see them succeed, or fail depending on what characters we are talking about. There is even one moment near the end that I think borders on genius due to the fact that the music during the action scene completely stops and allows the viewer to experience the visceral action and fighting onscreen without any musical cues. I LOVE it when TV and movies do this and this movie utilizes the technique almost perfectly in one instance. So very cool!
With all this ranting and raving you must be wondering if I think there is anything wrong with this movie at all. Well I will say my biggest complaint lies in the movie’s rating. THE EAGLE received a PG-13 rating and I believe this has limited the movie a great deal. This is a movie that revolves around battle, primitive cultures, and revenge. I noticed quite a few scenes that held back when there should have been much more violence and bloodshed. Some of the cuts and transitions seemed highly edited to fit the PG-13 rating and I suspect we will see an unrated version down the line on DVD and Blu-Ray. I truly hope the director shot the gory shots and just edited them out for the rating. While this did not hurt the overall narrative it did hurt the true sense of brutality that was had during these times of war. I also felt as if the last 5 minutes or so were rushed or not fully realized. It just seemed like the payoff for the events in the movie were not as glorified as they should have been.
With my minor gripes aside, this movie is great and deserves to be seen by those looking for a good time at the theater. There really is a great story here with wonderful pacing, characters with depth that are well acted, some intense action sequences, and some interesting historical accounts. If THE EAGLE ever gets an unrated version or director’s cut down the line I will surely revisit it gladly. A great film that deserves to be noticed. Highly recommended.
Final Score: 8 out of 10