Review: The Eagle (2011)

Adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel The Eagle Of The Ninth, The Eagle is an historical adventure film directed by Kevin Macdonald.

Set in Roman-ruled Britain, The Eagle tells the story of a young Roman soldier (Channing Tatum) who endeavors to honour his father’s memory by finding his lost legion’s golden emblem.

A simple story, perhaps, and nothing original in terms of narrative elements, but the opening act is intelligent, fast-paced and engaging enough to maintain the audiences attention. At the halfway mark, however, the narrative shifts a gear, its pace changes and it suddenly becomes a chase film, ending in an uninspired way that somewhat ruins the polished opening setup.

Relying massively on standard cinematic methods as opposed to often cheap and fake-looking state-of-the-art CGI effects, the battle sequences are given a commendable sense of visceral realism. This works in Macdonald’s favour.

The aforementioned sequences are occasionally brutal and bloody, but not overly so. Moreover, aside from one or two mild profanities and the obviously simmering homoeroticism between Marcus and Esca, the film is, to its merit, refreshingly devoid of unnecessary sexual content.

One of the films major flaws is that Macdonald, and screenwriter Jeremy Brock, are too afraid to let the material be about what it should be: violence. Instead, they try too hard to make it into a more intimate character piece, which ends up feeling all too superfluous.

While he may seem like an odd fit, Channing Tatum rises to the occasion and fills the role of Marcus Aquila admirably – as does his co-star, Bell, in his. The dynamic and tension between their characters is outstanding. By combining their individualistic personalities and working together, the audience is allowed a better understanding of their motives, no matter how nonsensical they are.

The performances from the supporting cast – including turns from Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong and Tahar Rahim – are competent enough, but they’re all too disposable to make much of an impact on the overall narrative.

As an historical epic, The Eagle falls short. But as minor escapist fare, with fun, engaging and bold ideas, it unexpectedly succeeds.

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6 thoughts on “Review: The Eagle (2011)”

  1. You think the movie should have been about violence? I have a hard time believing any movie needs more violence, especially one that is already an action adventure, and thus has enough violence inherent in its story. Otherwise it becomes violence for violence’s sake, which at the least is mind-numbing, and at the worst is bloodthirsty. Overall my estimation of the film is similar to yours — it’s pretty good, but not great, and had potential to be better. You’re also right that the supporting cast is good, but not used very well. The movie’s shot with an artistic eye, which is appreciated, but the pacing is a little off.

    If anything, though, this movie needed to be much more of a character piece, like older adventure films that married excitement and action with layered character development. I highly recommend the book — the characters are complex, very real, very sensible, and the whole story holds together much better than the movie. Some of the changes they made to the movie hurt the book’s themes; for example, Marcus frees Esca before they even start on the quest, because they are friends, and the tension comes from more detailed interactions with Scottish tribespeople. Guern, the Roman-gone-native who tells Marcus what happened to the legion, also had a larger, more nuanced role in the book. Anyway, it’s very good. Glad we both liked the movie too, though, for all its flaws.

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  2. Thanks for your feedback.

    It’s not that I thought it needed to be more violent, I just thought it shied away a little, and didn’t really seem to have a proper direction for most of the film. The ending was hugely disappointing after the promising setup.

    It was enjoyable though, and a lot better than the promotional material led me to expect.

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    1. Yeah, I thought the promotional material was mediocre. And the directing needed more clarity and focus. I still wouldn’t say it shied away from the violence — the combat scenes seemed to showcase some very violent actions — but they also used lots of shaky cam, which made it nearly impossible to follow the action. That annoyed me a lot — if you’re going to show action, show it, right?

      A short while ago I wrote my own review of the movie, with links to other reviews. Mind if I add yours?

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  3. In short I agree with your review. The first half was very promising, and then it sort of slipped. Luckily it managed to still keep attention to the end. I enjoyed the film and thought the main cast were great and their relationships with each other showed as a positive effect on the movie because of this.

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