Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: "The Eagle" Soars on the Performances of its Leads

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 64 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Eagle (2011)
Running time: 114 minutes (1 hour, 54 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for battle sequences and some disturbing images
DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
WRITER: Jeremy Brock Rosemary Sutcliff (based on the novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff)
PRODUCER: Duncan Kenworthy
EDITOR: Justine Wright


Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahimm Ned Dennehy, Thomas Henry, and Denis O’Hare

The Eagle is a 2011 historical film from Kevin Macdonald, who directed The Last King of Scotland (2006). The Eagle is based upon The Eagle of the Ninth, a 1954 historical adventure novel written by Rosemary Sutcliff. The Eagle follows a young Roman officer’s journey to find a lost Roman eagle standard in the wild north of Great Britain, which the Roman Empire does not control.

In the year 140 AD, 20 years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Caledonia (Scotland), Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), a young Roman centurion, arrives in Britain to serve as a garrison commander. Marcus also hopes to redeem his family’s honor and to restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth.

Accompanied only by his British slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), Marcus sets out across Hadrian’s Wall into the uncharted highlands of Caledonia, beyond the frontier of the Roman Empire. There, he will not only confront the mystery of his father’s disappearance, but also the savage tribes of the north, in particular, the Seal People. Along the way, Marcus will learn the truth about Esca, the fate of the Ninth Legion, and the whereabouts of the legion’s golden standard, the Eagle of the Ninth.

The Eagle belongs to a sub-genre of the adventure and historical film genres that some critics, reviewers, and fans call “sword and sandal” (or “sword and shield” as Roger Ebert calls them). Troy, 300, and Gladiator (the best picture Oscar winner back in 2000) are recent examples of sword and sandal flicks. Like those films, The Eagle is about men of war and about the honor they seek to gain, regain, or retain.

However, this film offers something more. Marcus Aquila is clearly the hero, and his quest to recover the eagle standard is a heroic one. However, the society to which he belongs, the Roman Empire, is not heroic. The film contrasts Marcus’ behavior as a warrior with Rome’s behavior towards the people the empire conquers. The film views the quest for honor from two sides – Rome and Rome’s opponents – is personified by Marcus’ slave, Esca, played by Jamie Bell, who gives this film’s best performance.

What appeals to me about this film is that it is a rousing, manly adventure that is open to different points of view – including those of the antagonists. The Eagle reminds us that while war, even battle, may seem simple, it is complex, indeed, even messy.

The Eagle is not perfect. Marcus’ time at the garrison, the battles, and the chases through the forest are superb cinema, while the character moments are somewhat dull. I for one liked Channing Tatum’s pugnacious performance. It is the movie star sweet to this movie’s determination not to be straight-forward rah-rah about war. The Eagle is a film I’ll come back to many times.

7 of 10

Wednesday, July 27, 2011



  1. I was intrigued by your response and have quoted some of it at

    I hope that's OK with you!

  2. Better late than never: Sure, it's okay.