In The Eagle, Channing Tatum plays Marcus Flavius Aquila, the son of a Roman Centurion who lost his standard under mysterious circumstances, a disgrace to the Roman Empire. Aquila takes over the operation of a garrison, though his men are suspicious of the son of a failure, and manages to save everyone from invading Celts.
Suffering an injury, he’s sent to a hospital, where he meets his uncle (Donald Sutherland). As he recovers slowly and stews at his lack of a future, he learns that the Eagle has been seen in the North of England and plots to restore the honour of his family and return the standard to Rome.
Joined by the slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), in his journey north, the pair form an uneasy alliance as they single-handedly track down the Eagle. The trek is a long one, into the depths of the barbaric territory north of Hadrian’s Wall, encountering Celtic tribesman and the dangerous Seal people. Fortunately for Aquila, Esca is a brutal, efficient killer with unparalleled knowledge of the tribes, being the son of a slain tribal leader. Unfortunately, Esca also knows more than he’s letting on, leaving Aquila in a dangerous position as the roles are quickly reversed and Aquila finds himself out of his depth.
As the search for the standard continues and the truth is unearthed, Esca and Aquila discover that loyalty, respect and honour mean more than the Eagle ever could.
As a Roman epic, The Eagle is an interesting film. With Tatum and Bell practically carrying most of the film, it’s a bit of a shame that actors like Mark Strong, Donald Sutherland and Douglas Henshall are given so little to do. Historically, there are a fair few holes, however, it doesn’t stop it being a good example of storytelling that oozes machismo.
The film isn’t without its flaws, with a final act that feels a tad rushed, with only Esca and Aquila actually feeling three-dimensional, and a depiction of Roman times that swings from a bit brutal to far too tame, depending on what act of violence is being committed.
Channing Tatum delivers yet another performance that could be seen as intense, if we’ve not seen it before. He seems to be able to pull off the hard man role easily enough, though he doesn’t quite convince as a Roman commander, partially because he looks like he’s just stepped out of a modelling shoot. He’s not as bland as he was in GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, but he’s not as engaging as he was in A Guide To Recognising Your Saints. Perhaps, one day he’ll find a balance.
The film really belongs to Jamie Bell who, since his first appearance all those years ago, has consistently developed as an actor of range and intensity. As the brooding and dangerous slave, he’s at once able to convey brutality and intelligence. Delivering every line in his Sunderland accent, he’s able to threaten, deceive and emote effortlessly. He’s really does bring the character of Esca alive.
Kevin Macdonald’s direction struggles to capture the action adventure feel of the film. The fight sequences bear a resemblance to the close and rough style of Paul Greengrass and the later Bourne films, however, the rest of the film is directed with Macdonald’s distant style. It’s not badly directed. It’s just a bit too artistic for this kind of film.
The Eagle is a boys’ own tale that’s full of youthful exuberance, lacks any hint of humour (until the mistimed moment at the very end), yet manages to remain quite engaging. Some of the violent scenes are a bit too much for a young audience and not bloody enough for an adult audience, but it’s a well told story that suffers some pacing issues in the final half hour.
If you’re looking for one hundred percent historical accuracy, find yourself a documentary. If you want to watch a decent film, with brutal fight scenes and decent performances, then take a look at The Eagle.
The Alternate Ending dispenses with the idiotic, buddy movie last few moments of the film and replaces it with a slightly more emotional ending that still manages to fall flat when the two characters are discussing their future plans.
There are two Deleted Scenes, including a chariot race across the open fields and more of Esca’s background. The latter is an interesting exchange, and could certainly have remained in the film.
The Eagle: The Making Of A Roman Epic runs for a much less than epic twelve minutes and is no more than a fancy trailer and electronic press kit for the film. Part advertisement, part history lesson, we do get some background on Roman times and the real loss of the Eagle, a look at the training that the actors had to undergo to make their performances convincing and some of the stunt work. Annoyingly, it is far too short and gives a taste of what could have been achieved had they made it feature-length. History, set design, military training, fight training, casting, props, so much could have been covered in so much more detail, but instead we get a taster of each element.
The Director’s Commentary is interesting with Kevin Macdonald sharing his knowledge and experience with the audience and rarely babbling on for no real reason. Between technical detail, location detail, discussions about cast and crew, Macdonald covers a lot of ground and does it as efficiently as his filmmaking. He occasionally mentions history, but not often, and never in much depth. He’s a humble, interesting and engaging speaker who talks openly about the filmmaking process, good and bad, and doesn’t take too much credit for the making of the film, instead choosing to praise everyone involved in the production.
UPDATE: We’ve since discovered that the Blu-ray release of The Eagle contains a 45-minute The Eagle: Creating The Standard making of documentary. Look out for a separate review of the Blu-ray release shortly, taking that into account.
You can rent or buy The Eagle at Blockbuster.co.uk.