Review of The Eagle


'The Eagle' tells the story of a young man, Marcus (Channing Tatum), who is assigned a mission to find out what happened to the fabled Ninth Spanish Legion, who supposedly disappeared around 117 A.D. in England. The word 'supposedly' applies here because there is much disagreement between historians about when and where the Legion disappeared, or if it really disappeared at all. The movie is loosely adapted from the 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth, which explains the disappearance of the Legion and the prized eagle statue that provides the title of the movie.

The action takes place just over 20 years after the Legion goes missing. Marcus takes his slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), and heads to Northern England (which today is known as Scotland) to not only find the statue, but also to find out what happened to his dad, a member of the Legion who is blamed for losing the Eagle. Young Marcus has made it his life's mission to find out what happened to the golden statue, even if it means risking his life and enduring bloodshed.

The bloodshed does happen, early and often. There are several fight scenes throughout the movie, each with some really authentic weapons from those days. Some with weaker stomachs may cringe at the chariots armed with razors that shred the legs of the enemy. This type of brutality gives a fairly accurate portrayal of war in 140 A.D., even as the accents begin to disappear from the actors' mouths.

The fight scenes are fairly epic and done in a very artful way. Director Kevin Macdonald almost makes the brutality beautiful with the way the scenes are captured. The swordplay is very fast and skillful, and it feels like it is actually taking place on a battlefield with real humans. This is a pleasant surprise, considering how many war films have used CGI to fill in for humans in battlefield scenes. The Eagle seems to use actual human actors. If any of them were computer-generated, it is not obvious to the viewer at all. This adds to the savage reality of the bloody scenes. Viewers who love swordplay and battle scenes will enjoy this movie.

As the body count rises, the movie gives a little bit of insight about Marcus and why he is so driven. His uncle, Aquila (Donald Sutherland), gives the movie some emotional weight and some back story about Marcus' father and what may have been his fate. The script by Jeremy Brock does a good job with these personal interactions. The lines feel authentic and heartfelt, especially those of Esca. The script never lets you forget that Esca is a Celt who is charged with the task of helping the Roman, Marcus, against his own people, and all the conflict that goes with it.

The relationship between Marcus and Esca is at the heart of the film. As they engage in battle after battle, they become closer without straying into friend territory. Even as these born enemies begin to trust each other with their lives, the movie never forgets to remind the audience that this is still a master-slave relationship, albeit an unusually close one.

The set design is stunning as Celtic villages and the Scottish countryside are all recreated here to great visual effect. Though the story is solid, it is the visuals that truly capture the viewer and keep them wanting more. With a running time of 114 minutes, there are plenty of colorful set pieces and bloody battles to keep anyone interested. The movie may wrap up on a bit of a politically correct note, but the ending clearly isn't the point of The Eagle. The point of the film is the journey, and it is an epic, bloody, colorful, and most entertaining one.