The Eagle Reviews
The plot revolving around the mystery of the Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana) has been passed around the history books for along time and no one really knows what happened to them but this film goes along with the safe bet that they were simply ambushed and beaten by local tribes (probably Picts) and all killed or executed.
Of course the film isn't totally accurate, the story that one Centurion (Aquila) goes behind enemy lines with a Briton slave to recapture the Eagle standard is pure fantasy, the way the film concludes is also pure fantasy and maybe should of ended in a more realistic fashion. Despite the obvious historical flaws, you can't blame the creators for alittle artistic license, this film is excellent fun and really well made from the costumes and tribal speech right to the fantastic location work.
The real Scottish Highlands and Glens are used for the backdrop in this film and boy does it work, some of the scenes look tremendous, really barren n bleak with rain n clouds aplenty, also the use of native tongue for all the tribal scenes really adds to the epic quality and realism although I'm unsure if they looked as they are portrayed. They do have a kind of Amazon rain forest type of look to them, think 'Apocalypto' or 'Last of the Mohican's' Huron look.
I'm also unsure if the local tongue used in the film is based on anything real, same with the 'Seal' tribe, never heard of them and its thought the Picts would of been the natives of the time.
Great fight sequences and a much more real feel to the film than the recent 'Centurion' which had a more blockbuster type urge to it. I'm unsure if anyone would really be that bothered about a flag standard that they would go through all that, not sure the Roman hierarchy would be bothered about it either as they would probably be more concerned about losing men and ground than the actual metal standard. Its all good and well acted from both the Roman front and Tribal front with Tatum and Bell looking quite similar to each other haha the tribal warriors of Caledonia also playing their parts really well.
The main flaw of the film however is that it hangs much of the characters motivations on the tired saw of "honor". The main character, Marcus, whose father was the leader of the famed 9th legion; a group who traveled about the wall, 5,000 strong, and were never heard from again, wants to restore the family name and honor by finding the legion's standard, the title of the film. OK, that works... then you have the Brit slave who is rescued from the death decreed in the gladiator pits because he refused to fight (he is given the old "thumbs down" by the rabble, only to be saved by Marcus who sees valor and bravery in his refusal to fight). The Brit later tells Marcus that he hates everything Marcus stands for, but since Marcus saved his life, will fight and die for him, figuring that he owes Marcus a debt of honor... well, kinda works, but weak.
There are some good battle scenes early on, and I though the earthen walls of the roman fortress to be passably accurate, and I liked the way the film made use of the famed roman "turtle" formation, which took good advantage of their tall shields.
But that's all in the first half of the film (which is only marred by a quirky, off the wall performance by Donald Sutherland as Marcus' uncle.
The second half has Marcus and his slave traveling in the woods and lochs of Scotland, infiltrating a band of "savages" who are believed to hold the Eagle. The film shoots for a tone of gravitas, but comes off as almost comic, with battles punctuated by sad overdubs and a truly weak morality play that looks almost Shakespearian when compared to the film's "well I guess I showed you" closing as Marcus returns the Eagle all the way to Rome (which, by the way, would have taken over a year back then). The final frames show Marcus and slave having a true buddy-buddy moment of bon homie, which was non evident in the remainder of the film. It just makes you wonder if they ran out of script, or if the script writer was abducted by aliens, or perhaps the studio just put pressure on him in the attempt to give the film an alleged wider viewing audience. Regardless, the effort failed and the film fell on its own sword.
The Eagle's relationship to Gladiator is uncomfortably close right from the start. In the opening act, before Channing Tatum journeys over Hadrian's Wall, the film invokes or restages several key images from Ridley Scott's masterpiece, such as Marcus praying to the gods through smoke or laying out little figurines of his family. The first battle sequence is like the opening battle in Gladiator, only shot on a smaller scale and without a tripod. Last but not least, the central character is a soldier haunted by what has happened to his family, in this case the shame surrounding his father.
There are other prominent references in the film which become all too apparent as the action plays out. The ending, where Marcus and Esca are pursued across the Scottish landscape by the Seal People, is very close to The Fellowship of the Ring. They are two small, vulnerable people being pursued by the 2nd-century equivalent of the uruk-hai, and Justine Wright's editing is very similar to those sequences. Even the sound design treads close to The Lord of the Rings, with the death throes of Marcus' horse sounding awfully similar to those of the cave troll.
The crucial problem with The Eagle is that it fails to do what Gladiator did so well - namely balancing the macho and the metaphysical. Scott's film began and ended in the Elysian fields: its intense and often brutal battle scenes (including the fist-fight between Maximus and Commodus) were anchored around an exploration of politics, religion, gender and mortality. The Eagle doesn't have any such weight to carry around and its presentation is much more erratic: it amounts to lots of walking, then a battle, repeated a few times, with the odd little twist or idea thrown in along the way.
A further comparison, this time with Scott's most recent effort, will help to shed further light on Macdonald's shortcomings. The central problem with Robin Hood was that it didn't know exactly what it wanted to be - a Batman Begins¬-like origin story, a political drama about working-class emancipation, or a bombastic action movie with pantomime villains. But even in the midst of making up its mind, Robin Hood did at least manage to tackle the political side of its story, albeit superficially.
The Eagle has the opposite problem. It knows exactly what it wants to be, which is a very old-fashioned romp (and I use the term loosely) with characters which are all too clearly drawn and a fairly predictable storyline. Rosemary Sutcliff's novel, which had previously been adapted for Children's Hour in the 1950s, draws the battle lines between good and evil all too broadly, placing honour and valour over common sense and character development. Even when it's trying to subvert the central relationship between master and slave during the encounter with the Seal People, it still feels blinkered and obstinate as to where your loyalties should lie and to what extent.
Whereas the novel was originally intended for children (more specifically young boys), there are numerous sequences in The Eagle which are unsuitable for younger audiences. For a 12 certificate film, it is pretty gruesome, with more than one instance of beheading and a fair amount of blood on screen. That said, you don't have to sit through all the really troubling stuff, like people's throats being slit (including a child's throat in one scene towards the end). And most of the time the battle scenes are so frenetic and rapidly edited that you can't exactly tell where people are getting hit, or with what - or, for that matter, why.
The film is shot by Anthony Dod Mantle, whose credits include the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire and Lars von Trier's controversial Antichrist. Dod Mantle is a pioneer of handheld digital photography, and he does add a number of notable visual touches which make The Eagle a little more distinctive. The opening shot on the river is like one of the woodland scenes in Antichrist: there is a similar sense of mystery in the wild surroundings of nature, albeit with less demonic threat. And some of his compositions are clever, such as showing characters' faces through water which is already reflecting the sky.
But despite Dod Mantle's knowledge and expertise, the use of hand-held camera is inconsistent and ends up being detrimental. Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the battle scenes, the quieter sections find Macdonald's camera juddering and bouncing when the scene would be better served with a dolly or crane. Like the opening of The Bourne Supremacy, it takes a while for us to adjust to the aesthetic, and for the action to catch up with the frenetic camerawork. But whereas Paul Greengrass' film eventually got into its stride, The Eagle remains dodgy throughout, with Dod Mantle's camerawork hampering Macdonald's already lacklustre direction.
What makes The Eagle so lacklustre is the lack of strong, charismatic performances. This is surprising considering Macdonald's back catalogue, which includes Forest Whittaker's terrifying performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Jamie Bell remains a decent actor with a certain amount of screen presence, and Mark Strong makes the most of a small supporting role. But all their best efforts are in vain due to Channing Tatum, who has the charisma and acting ability of a lump of granite.
Because the film has no strong, charismatic protagonist, we aren't drawn into the story enough to make the substance feel intriguing. There is a couple of interesting ideas explored in The Eagle which are both interesting from a genre point of view and pertinent to 21st-century politics. One of these is the inherent instability of a conquering power, and the imperial force having to isolate an enemy rather than face it down and exterminate it. The very existence of Hadrian's Wall, as an imposed, artificial barrier between 'savage' and 'civilised', indicates that the occupying force is based upon fear, both in its methods of conquering and its view of other civilisations.
When Marcus encounters the Seal People, he is confronted with a culture which operates along the same tribal lines as his own. There is a clear distinction made between Roman and Briton, observed in everything from speech patterns to physical features: there is a running comment about Roman soldiers being recognised by a helmet scar under their chin. Having spent all his life as part of the 'superior race', Marcus is forced into silence and submission as the master-slave relationship is reversed. Esca, meanwhile, is torn between his desire for vengeance against Rome and his professed loyalty to Marcus for sparing his life at the games.
These are interesting ideas in and of themselves, but the film's structure never allows them to be explored in a satisfying amount of detail. More often than not The Eagle relies earnestly on genre expectations to sustain its appeal, giving us spectacle and plot devices but not much in the way of emotional engagement. The search for the missing roman standard, the eagle of the title, becomes almost secondary to the characters' endless wanderings, and the epilogue of them returning it to the senators is silly and clichéd.
The Eagle is a big disappointment from Macdonald, failing as both a romp and a means of exploring interesting ideas within a genre. It's not without substance or individual scenes which are visually arresting: it's a better story than 300 and the battle scenes will just about satisfy teenage boys. But for those of us who want to think a little harder, it falls short of most of the marks set for it, never threatening Gladiator's mantle as the great historical epic of our time.
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Summary: Haunted by the disappearance of his father, who vanished with the Roman Ninth Legion on an expedition into the north of Britain, centurion Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) sets out to unravel the mystery and recover the legion's eagle standard. But in the wilds of Caledonia, the soldier and his British slave (Jamie Bell) encounter fierce native tribes and other dangers. Kevin Macdonald directs this adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's novel.
My Thoughts: "I am one of the few that enjoyed the movie. I think what I liked best was the relationship between Marcus and Esca. How it grew into friendship and a brotherhood. *SPOILER*I had a bit of a hard time believing at first that Esca would betray his people, but after seeing what they done to that child, I could see why. *END OF SPOILER* There was just enough action for me and a decent story line. It could have been better, but I still enjoyed it as it is. Great acting by all. A film worth renting."
In Roman-ruled Britain, a young Roman soldier endeavors to honor his father's memory by finding his lost legion's golden emblem.
Last year I watched a movie called Centurion, which told what (apparently) happened to the ill-fated 9th Legion when they disappeared beyond Hadrian's Wall into the depths of primitive Scotland. The Eagle tells a different story - Marcus, invalided out of the Roman army with a leg wound, nips off beyond Hardian's Wall into the depths of primitive Scotland to find out what (apparently) happened to the ill-fated 9th Legion. Not the same at all.
To be fair, although both are drawn from the same basic source material, the two stories are not the same - Marcus' journey as far more of a Roman buddy movie, although "buddy" is perhaps straining things a bit. Marcus (Channing Tatum) is accompanied by his slave Eska (Jamie Bell), and there is a subtext of honour, obligation, and trust running through the film as the two of them go into the wilds to try to recover the lost Eagle of the 9th, and find out what happened to Marcus' father..
The Eagle is filmed on location in Scotland (which looks very Scottish) and Hungary (which often doesn't). Though it isn't as bleak as Centurion, it still looks pretty cold and wet and miserable much of the time. There's lots of action, much of it bloody, a couple of other well-known faces (Mark Strong, who isn't in it very much, and who sports an incongruous American accent, for instance), and vast numbers of Hungarians in supporting roles and as extras. The script isn't bad, and it's quite entertaining.
n 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, young centurion Marcus Aquila (Tatum) arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth. Accompanied only by his British slave Esca (Bell), Marcus sets out across Hadrian's Wall into the uncharted highlands of Caledonia - to confront its savage tribes, make peace with his father's memory, and retrieve the lost legion's golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth.
Adapted from the 1954 children's novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" by Rosemary Sutcliff, its quite obvious this 2011 version was made for adults. The book has only been adapted once, other than this film, as a mini-series back in 1977, and I can't tell you if it stayed true to the story or not. I haven't read the book so I can't say if it lived up to it or not. The movie focuses on a young Roman solider named Marcus Flavius Aquila. When he becomes Commander, he and his men are in battle by the first ten minutes of the movie, and he is hurt. Waking up in his Uncle's house, whom he never knew he had, he learns from an Officer he'll never be able to fight in war again. Thinking he'll never have anything to his or family's name again, he sets off to investigate the disappearance of his father's legion, the Ninth, from twenty years ago. With the help of his slave, Esca, who owes his life to Marcus, the two go off into the Northern mountains to recover the Ninth legion's Eagle standard in order to regain his father's respect and his. Through this journey we see a change in character from both Marcus and Esca. In the beginning, its obvious Marcus is war-hero but by the film's end we see a shift in his character that he is not just a hero, but a role model as well. Esca, who is a very likeable slave, always remains tense and dull, keeping the audience wondering what'll happen next. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of "The Eagle", it representing friendship, betrayal, honor, and heroism, something a lot of historical films set in this time seem to forget.
What I liked most about this movie is that it doesn't, at all, have any romance thrown in to it to mush it all up. Sometimes a girl falling for the film's hero can define the man for who he is, but, with "The Eagle", not having a love story being involved made the movie better in my opinion. The movie stayed focused on the plot and never hid way from it, filling itself with pointless scenes just to make it longer. I liked that the movie began right away and kept on moving itself along from start to finish. The energetic pace keeps you thrilled and the dialog between Esca and Marcus keeps you entertained. No love story needed, I'd say.
The acting in the movie doesn't start off the best, but as the script moves along the character's get some pretty serious lines that help shine their performances. Channing Tatum, who seems to be getting a lot hate from being in this, doesn't start off well. His attempt at a Roman accent starts off sloppy, him moving from keeping the accent in line to slipping the American tongue. But, as the movie progresses, his performance gets better and better. I thought that a few scenes he was in, yelling about what honor is and what Rome is were acted fantastic. Even though he wasn't the best choice for the role, he still manages to give a decent enough performance to keep the film at a high level. Jamie Bell, playing Esca, a British slave owing his life to Marcus, outshines Channing Tatum in every scene. He was a good casting choice for the role and he managed to make a believable British slave. Mark Strong has a pretty small, but important role in the film. He may be difficult to find having long hair and a beard, different than his shave-cut style. His performance as a surviving member of the Ninth Legion is good for the scenes he's in and never disappoints. And then we get to Donald Sutherland, who seems to be the weirdest choice for a Roman I've ever seen in movie history. While Sutherland does good with the few beginning scenes he's in, him being Marcus' uncle seemed unbelievable to me. I couldn't see it in Tatum and Sutherland, so it forced me not to see it in the characters either. While the two don't have the feeling of family, they do have some good, dramatic scenes together. A movie being looked away because of its cast doesn't deserve it and should be looked upon. The acting may not be Oscar-worthy, but, its still decent enough to enjoy and be happy with this movie.
"State of Play" and "The Last King of Scotland" director Kevin Macdonald does a great job keeping the direction of the film clean-cut. The camera never gets shaky during battle sequences, and some of the shots and angles shot of the Northern Mountains is fabulous. If there is one Oscar-worthy thing about "The Eagle", its for the cinematography. Its absolutely breathtaking. The look of Rome and Great Britain are used to the pulp, keeping your eyes fascinated all the way to the end. Writer Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland) does a great job writing the film in a very realistic way. There is never any mindless action, and the movie does a great job making your feel the fury between Britain and Rome based on Esca and Marcus' characters. The dialog between the two leads remains entertaining from start to finish, especially a scene between them were they speak of The Ninth Legion and what each thought of what they defined. All and all, the direction, cinematography, and writing on "The Eagle" was great.
The reason why people are comparing this movie to "Gladiator" is beyond me. The plot isn't close to being the same, and it isn't meant to be. The only thing close this movie has to "Gladiator" is one scene, and it's the best scene in the entire movie. I call it the "Thumbs Up" scene, where Esca and Marcus first met. Esca is a slave in a stadium being beaten by a Roman. People in the crowd are putting all their thumbs down chanting, meaning stick the sword into him and kill him. Marcus, being a character of heart and feeling sorry for the slave, attempts to get the entire audience to get their thumbs up. It was a truly remarkable scene, and even that doesn't sound anything close to "Gladiator", so those comparing the two should see this first before they do.
All and all, "The Eagle" is a great historical-drama that left me happy with the purchase of my ticket-price. Out of all the movies that have come out in 2011 thus far, and I've seen just about all of them, "The Eagle" would stand my favorite as of right now for its big heart, incredible cinematography, and very entertaining story that revolves around honor. If your still on par about deciding whether your still unsure about this or not, then at least give it a rent. But, I'm telling you now, "The Eagle" is quite the entertainment, and even epic by the film's end. You'll leave your theatre thinking, "I still yet to be disappointed by Focus Films".
I liked the story. It was a bit cheesey, but I think it was told in a good way and was executed very well. Also, I thought there was a nice blend of story and action. This easily could have been a lowbudget gore fest. Overall, this is a good movie. I liked it and I'd recommend it!