“The Eagle” is a very enjoyable and origjnal movie that takes some big risks and sustains your attention throughout.
The Stratford Picturehouse audience of (mostly) young men absolutely adored this. So did I, much to my surprise. In the trailer, the relentless Enya-type music and the Scots tribes of 140AD who looked like North American First Nations crossed with “Avatar” out takes irritatated me. But this film works, for so many reason.
Just for once, it’s a film that does not pander to middle-aged critics. I suspect they will hate it and pick at some of the anachronisms that exist here. But for me, it stays true to the best spirit of adventure and action on screen.
Based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel “Eagle of the Ninth”, the changed ending will not drive you mad, even if you love the book. It makes sense, in this context.
So many American films have tried, of late, to say something significant about occupation of countries overseas and the effects on those invading. This succeeds in being meaningful and getting the point across, without bashing the viewer with a message.
Simply, the plot is that Roman hero Channing Tatum (really good) goes north beyond Hadrian’s wall to reclaim his dad’s lost legion banner, a gold eagle. He is accompanied by Esca, his British slave, played by Jamie Bell. Both have back stories and their relationship strays into “Brokeback” a bit, but that’s just fine.
Of the other characters, Donald Sutherland plays our hero’s uncle and Mark Strong and “A Prophet’s” Tahar Rahim have super moments.
There are times when it seems bits of “Lord of the Rings”, “Gladiator”, “Last of the Mohicans”, “Avatar” and last year’s “Centurion” have been brought together. Familiarity and extraordinary cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle give this a beautiful look and feel.
Occasionally, the allegedly Scots scenery seems wrong. That’s because it is often Hungary, substituting for the Celtic kingdom. As for the use of Gaelic, I had issues with this but I don’t suppose these will trouble most of the audience. You don’t care about the correct pronunciation of Gaelic diphthongs, do you? If you do, let me know and we can chat.
Great fires, chase scenes and lonely treks over mountains form lovely parts of a gorgeous whole. I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a movie quite so much on such a pure and utterly childish level.
Kevin Macdonald (“Last King of Scotland”) has a real feel for making the action gallop forward and pulls you in.
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. There are no hobgoblins here. Historically consistent risks are taken and, for the most part, they keep your attention. At times, these risks fail, but that didn’t bother me.
Some of the freakier guesswork leads you to half-dressed characters in snow, but you should be so swept along by then that you are willing to suspend disbelief. There were characters who veered towards memories of “The Young Ones”, but I was enthralled enough that I only thought about this afterwards.
If you like to sneer, don’t bother with this. If you love a great big epic that will take you back to the big film events of the 1960s, you will love it as much as I did. I will buy the DVD and enjoy the pure action and adventure again and again.