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Dir: Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play, Touching the Void)
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong
Seen: February 11, 2011 at Scotiabank
Reason to see: It's on my list of Most Anticipated Films of 2011 (#19), I'm a big fan of both Channing Tatum & Jamie Bell as well as having a general love for Sword & Sandals films.
I had quite the experience leading up to seeing The Eagle, initially being really excited about it but then starting to read the book but not totally digging it. Then I got excited again, but reigned it in after the trailer which felt pretty spoilery. Then I got excited again, and then heard a chance mentioning that again felt super-spoilery. That meant that going into the film, although I was still rather excited about it and it is on my Most Anticipated Films of 2011, my expectations ended up being pretty low which I'm not all that thrilled about but in the end I did up seeing and enjoying the film.
Set in 140 AD Roman Britain, The Eagle follows Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum of Step Up, Fighting, Dear John), a new centurion whose family is thought of not in the best of lights as his father was part of the Ninth Legion who disappeared along with the eagle standard. Although Marcus is the clear protagonist in the film, it's just a hair away from feeling like a double protagonist with the introduction of the slave Esca (Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot, King Kong), whom together become an unlikely and reluctant duo. I was initially a little leery of Channing Tatum in a period piece although I'm a big fan of him as an actor it was just the accents and dialogue I was worried about but but they made some interesting choices to completely negated that issue. I was suprized but relieved at that as it really settled him into the world and then from there we were treated to one of beautiful and unique things about Channing Tatum, which is the ability to present a balance of physical strength and adeptness along with a sweet emotional range and sensitivity with believability, and that is essential to the character of Marcus. I also continue to he impressed with Jamie Bell whose presence and performance here is fantastic, although I have to admit I didn't always understand his character, which feels in part intentional but I still wanted to know more.
The film presents fascinating explorations of power, from power dynamics to powerlessness to being judged for things that are out of your power. These ideas presented a complexity to the characters that I wasn't expected and found continually engaging. The heart of the film really is a quest for restoration and redemption, and I was surprized to see the amount of heart in the film which could easily been swayed to be simply a sweeping historical action/adventure. It certainly has both action and adventure, but for me it was the character journeys that kept me interested and engaged and hungry for ore. One of the big highlights of the film was the Seal People, their costuming and design was fantastic, as it feels both in-your-face and also serves as camouflage. The actors who portrayed them had a fantastic physical presence and together with the design was such a delight.
I think it's important to note that the film is based on the first in a series of children's novels (The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff), so it's follows the lines of an adventure film, even though the characters are adults. It certainly fits in the sword & sandals genre nicely and is very much of the quest variety, but also serves up a fair amount of action and a lot of heart in the characters journeys. Overall, I enjoyed it and I'm already looking forward to seeing it again.
- 2 versions of the film: Theatrical Version & Unrated Version
- Feature Commentary with director Kevin Macdonald challenges of the film in terms of the story of The Ninth and incorporating the back story, the locations of where the film was shot in comparison to the setting and time period where the film was set, research and history of references and moments of the film, the casting - particularly locals in various regions, working with the actors, the actors working together, the characters and their stories, character motivations, the challenges of the film in particular doing a major a fight scene for the first time and keeping scenes dark but not too dark, notations to different cameras used, the choice and limited use of CG and lots of discussion around the music and themes. The commentary discusses the alternate ending, so I definitely recommend checking that out first and then listening to the commentary and discussion around the different endings.
- Alternate Ending (4 minutes) very different ending from the theatrical version in terms of comment, content & tone although does have a nice consistency with the film and the original ending. I think I actually prefer the alternate ending although I can understand why the theatrical version was chosen instead.
- Deleted Scenes (2 scenes, 6 minutes) Really great scenes here, I can only assume they were cu for pacing as I'd have loved to see them in the film. It includes one scene I remember from the book (I'm impressed I remembered it) that's pretty exciting and the second is a great insight and more in depth look at the relationship between Marcus & Esca.
- The Eagle: The Making of a Roman Epic (12 minutes) film clips, behind the scenes and interviews with director Kevin Macdonald, producer Duncan Kenworthy, military advisor Paul Hornsby, sword master Richard Ryan, production designer Michael Carlin, prop master Muffin Green, set decorator Rebecca Alleway, and actors Channing Tatum & Jamie Bell on what drew them to the project, background on the history that inspired the book, connection to the book, also looks at the characters, their motivations, challenges and their journey together. I loved that here was a lot of behind the scenes on location and in rehearsal of putting together the armies, the locations and the fight sequences and how much of the locations were build and how so much of the props and sets were made from real materials specifically for the film. The making has an occasional voice over which is a choice I've not often seen in making of's recently, and it guiding us through the different bases it touches on and gives it a slight made for TV feel to it and because it does go into depth of certain aspects of the film including characters, moments and locations I would highly recommend watching it after seeing the film
Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it
I'll watch it again & and read the book
I'd recommend it to folks who like historical adventure films
Also see: All 2011 Films Reviewed, Most Anticipated Films of 2011, 2011 Book to Film Adaptations or see more DVD Reviews
© Shannon Ridler, 2011
Originally reviewed for Theatrical Release - February 14, 2011
Channing Tatum (right) stars in the Roman epic adventure THE EAGLE, an Alliance Films' release directed by Academy Award® winner Kevin Macdonald. Photo Credit Matt Nettheim
Jamie Bell (left) stars in the Roman epic adventure THE EAGLE, an Alliance Films' release directed by Academy Award® winner Kevin Macdonald. Photo Credit Matt Nettheim
Tahar Rahim stars in the Roman epic adventure THE EAGLE, an Alliance Films' release directed by Academy Award® winner Kevin Macdonald. Photo Credit Keith Bernstein