Focus Features, you still yet to disappoint me.
Adapted from the 1954 children's novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" by Rosemary Sutcliff, its quite obvious this 2011 version was made for adults. The book has only been adapted once, other than this film, as a mini-series back in 1977, and I can't tell you if it stayed true to the story or not. I haven't read the book so I can't say if it lived up to it or not. The movie focuses on a young Roman solider named Marcus Flavius Aquila. When he becomes Commander, he and his men are in battle by the first ten minutes of the movie, and he is hurt. Waking up in his Uncle's house, whom he never knew he had, he learns from an Officer he'll never be able to fight in war again. Thinking he'll never have anything to his or family's name again, he sets off to investigate the disappearance of his father's legion, the Ninth, from twenty years ago. With the help of his slave, Esca, who owes his life to Marcus, the two go off into the Northern mountains to recover the Ninth legion's Eagle standard in order to regain his father's respect and his. Through this journey we see a change in character from both Marcus and Esca. In the beginning, its obvious Marcus is war-hero but by the film's end we see a shift in his character that he is not just a hero, but a role model as well. Esca, who is a very likeable slave, always remains tense and dull, keeping the audience wondering what'll happen next. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of "The Eagle", it representing friendship, betrayal, honor, and heroism, something a lot of historical films set in this time seem to forget.
What I liked most about this movie is that it doesn't, at all, have any romance thrown in to it to mush it all up. Sometimes a girl falling for the film's hero can define the man for who he is, but, with "The Eagle", not having a love story being involved made the movie better in my opinion. The movie stayed focused on the plot and never hid way from it, filling itself with pointless scenes just to make it longer. I liked that the movie began right away and kept on moving itself along from start to finish. The energetic pace keeps you thrilled and the dialog between Esca and Marcus keeps you entertained. No love story needed, I'd say.
The acting in the movie doesn't start off the best, but as the script moves along the character's get some pretty serious lines that help shine their performances. Channing Tatum, who seems to be getting a lot hate from being in this, doesn't start off well. His attempt at a Roman accent starts off sloppy, him moving from keeping the accent in line to slipping the American tongue. But, as the movie progresses, his performance gets better and better. I thought that a few scenes he was in, yelling about what honor is and what Rome is were acted fantastic. Even though he wasn't the best choice for the role, he still manages to give a decent enough performance to keep the film at a high level. Jamie Bell, playing Esca, a British slave owing his life to Marcus, outshines Channing Tatum in every scene. He was a good casting choice for the role and he managed to make a believable British slave. Mark Strong has a pretty small, but important role in the film. He may be difficult to find having long hair and a beard, different than his shave-cut style. His performance as a surviving member of the Ninth Legion is good for the scenes he's in and never disappoints. And then we get to Donald Sutherland, who seems to be the weirdest choice for a Roman I've ever seen in movie history. While Sutherland does good with the few beginning scenes he's in, him being Marcus' uncle seemed unbelievable to me. I couldn't see it in Tatum and Sutherland, so it forced me not to see it in the characters either. While the two don't have the feeling of family, they do have some good, dramatic scenes together. A movie being looked away because of its cast doesn't deserve it and should be looked upon. The acting may not be Oscar-worthy, but, its still decent enough to enjoy and be happy with this movie.
"State of Play" and "The Last King of Scotland" director Kevin Macdonald does a great job keeping the direction of the film clean-cut. The camera never gets shaky during battle sequences, and some of the shots and angles shot of the Northern Mountains is fabulous. If there is one Oscar-worthy thing about "The Eagle", its for the cinematography. Its absolutely breathtaking. The look of Rome and Great Britain are used to the pulp, keeping your eyes fascinated all the way to the end. Writer Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland) does a great job writing the film in a very realistic way. There is never any mindless action, and the movie does a great job making your feel the fury between Britain and Rome based on Esca and Marcus' characters. The dialog between the two leads remains entertaining from start to finish, especially a scene between them were they speak of The Ninth Legion and what each thought of what they defined. All and all, the direction, cinematography, and writing on "The Eagle" was great.
The reason why people are comparing this movie to "Gladiator" is beyond me. The plot isn't close to being the same, and it isn't meant to be. The only thing close this movie has to "Gladiator" is one scene, and it's the best scene in the entire movie. I call it the "Thumbs Up" scene, where Esca and Marcus first met. Esca is a slave in a stadium being beaten by a Roman. People in the crowd are putting all their thumbs down chanting, meaning stick the sword into him and kill him. Marcus, being a character of heart and feeling sorry for the slave, attempts to get the entire audience to get their thumbs up. It was a truly remarkable scene, and even that doesn't sound anything close to "Gladiator", so those comparing the two should see this first before they do.
All and all, "The Eagle" is a great historical-drama that left me happy with the purchase of my ticket-price. Out of all the movies that have come out in 2011 thus far, and I've seen just about all of them, "The Eagle" would stand my favorite as of right now for its big heart, incredible cinematography, and very entertaining story that revolves around honor. If your still on par about deciding whether your still unsure about this or not, then at least give it a rent. But, I'm telling you now, "The Eagle" is quite the entertainment, and even epic by the film's end. You'll leave your theatre thinking, "I still yet to be disappointed by Focus Features".