Universal // 2011 // 114 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 13th, 2011
Ignore the unimpressive trailers and the milquetoast marketing. The Eagle is a good little movie, only a few missteps away from being a full-on gem.
Marcus Aquila (Tatum, Fighting) is an up-and-coming Roman Centurion with proven badass credentials and some ripe family connections. He can have his pick of assignments, yet chooses to run a garrison up in British no-man's land. The reason: he's seeking to redeem his father's name, a general who led the famed Ninth Legion into the North Britain wilderness and was never heard from again.
Marcus gets his chance to uncover the mystery, when he's knocked out of commission from service. Seizeing the opportunity to take a one-man mission to find out what happened to his father, he may also be able to reclaim the lost Eagle, the sacred Roman standard that vanished in the wilderness of Britain. His only help: a slave, Esca (Jamie Bell, Jumper), who hates Rome like poison, but will step up and swing his sword at a fool if need be.
The Eagle is a good movie. Surprisingly good, considering it was in and out of theatres in a flash. The studio PR folks didn't seem to know exactly how to handle it. My initial reaction was it looks like a low-impact, easily-accessible actioner using Tatum -- a guy not known for starring in grown-up movies -- as a way to wrangle the MTV crowd.
Those first impressions were wildly off base. The Eagle is a serious and gritty mini-epic, a film that fully embraces themes of loyalty, friendship, and honor, set against the backdrop of sprawling vistas and historical authenticity.
As much as I love to champion under-the-radar sword-swinging actioners, I must stop short from a full-on chubby for this thing. The film opens with gusto, as Marcus takes over the garrison and immediately reveals his studliness, almost single-handedly repelling a batch of invading Britons. It's a dynamite action scene, followed by another sequence where Marcus leads some soldiers into the guts of a barbarian horde. Unfortunately, The Eagle never recaptures that visceral excitement in subsequent set-pieces. Most disappointing of all is the final confrontation, which had all the ingredients for a truly fantastic sequence -- heroes outnumbered in a big way, main bad guy just performed an atrocious and evil act, music ramping up, shot at redemption for a bunch of dudes -- yet it's merely okey-dokey in its execution. The fight is filled with quick and choppy edits, which makes it tough to get a handle on the geography and the villain doesn't nearly get the comeuppance he deserved. Hollywood needs to take a lesson from overseas action directors and pull back letting the mayhem unfold. Channing Tatum can hack it.
About him. In previous films Tatum's displayed the charisma of aluminum foil and, while he's still a bit stiff, this is a good role for him -- physical, jock-tough, brow-furrowed, and appears to be enjoying himself. His Roman accent is hit-and-miss and I wonder if the director had all the other Romans ditch that Hollywood-mandated, vaguely-Eurotrash inflection so Tatum didn't stand out. Still, he's good here, good enough that I wouldn't mind seeing him in other action films not titled Fighting.
The Blu-ray contains the unrated version and the PG-13 theatrical cut; go with the former for a touch more blood spurting. The 2.35:1, 1080p (MPEG-4 AVC) transfer is solid, grungy, and sandblasted, but that's a stylistic choice. The details still pop and the sweeping shots of the highlands look fantastic. Audio is rambunctious, driven by an active DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that pumps out the battle sequences with verve. Extras: commentary from director Kevin Macdonald, a nice making-of featurette, deleted scenes (including a lengthy chariot race sequence), and an absolutely terrible alternate ending that would have made the entire film a moot point. Well done test audiences.
The Eagle falls a mite short of soaring. Far from a waste of time, though. Check it out.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical Cut
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Cinema Verdict Review