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In Roman-ruled Britain, a young Roman soldier endeavors to honor his father's memory by finding his lost legion's golden emblem.
For more about The Eagle and the The Eagle Blu-ray release, see the The Eagle Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 11, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim, Donald Sutherland, Denis O'Hare
Director: Kevin Macdonald
» See full cast & crew
The Eagle Blu-ray Review
"He's a slave. He will slit your throat the minute you're alone..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, June 11, 2011
The Eagle harkens back to a simpler age of filmmaking when more intimate, character driven historical dramas were more common than they are today; before CG armies and landscapes knocked the wind out of the traditional epic, before blood and gore became synonymous with potency and spectacle, before Gladiator's acclaim and Academy adoration saddled filmmakers with the notion that bigger was always better. And it does so with disarming ease. It isn't backed by an A-list actor, bankable leading man or box office titan. It doesn't push for a hard-R or revel in gratuitous violence. Even its unrated cut is a decidedly PG-13 affair. It never drifts away from its two main characters, never attempts to tell a sweeping story and never ups the ante, choosing to pull inward where most other swords-n-sandals, mud-n-blood period pieces would push outward. It's refreshing, though, and helps the film trudge through the kind of genre muck that so often drags a film down. But without any pomp and circumstance to divert attention away from its faults, it's left to rise or fall on its own minimalistic terms. The Eagle has little to hide behind; it's offered little sanctuary on its arduous journey. It's simply forced to bare its soul from beginning to end, flaws and all.
Based on Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel, "The Eagle of the Ninth," The Eagle tells the solemn tale of Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum, G.I. Joe), a young centurion dispatched to command a small but crucial garrison in Britain. Years before, his father led the Ninth Legion northward, never to be heard from again. The legion's prized Eagle standard was lost as well, the Aquila family name was tarnished, and Marcus grows up through the ranks of the Roman military determined to restore his family's honor. That becomes more difficult though when he's wounded in battle, honorably discharged for his actions, and sent to live with his uncle (Donald Sutherland) in the southern town of Calleva. Difficult, but not impossible. With the help of a Celtic slave named Esca (Jamie Bell, Defiance), Marcus travels north, beyond Hadrian's Wall, to track down and recover the Ninth Legion's lost Eagle standard. Marcus and Esca soon find themselves in increasingly hostile territory, following whatever clues might point them in the direction of his father's last known whereabouts.
If that all sounds a bit familiar, it's because it is. Neil Marshall's Centurion, released just six months before The Eagle, deals with the same lost legion of history and legend; the difference being Marshall's film focuses on the soldiers of the Ninth Legion itself. But whereas Centurion was heavy on mud and even heavier on blood, The Eagle is more interested in the unlikely bond that develops between Marcus and Esca. Honor and freedom are thrust into the fray, while the battles that erupt are merely in service of the distilled story at hand. Director Kevin Macdonald's subtext is rather obvious -- from the minute the Romans begin speaking with American accents, actually -- and far removed from the more layered cultural clashes that dominate Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland. But the film's simple themes suit the tenuous friendship screenwriter Jeremy Brock uses to pit Marcus' honor against his humanity and Esca's deep-rooted heritage against his newly sworn loyalties. The outcome isn't gripping per se (The Eagle isn't as inventive or compelling as Apocalypto, or even Centurion), but it does propel Macdonald's adaptation into an unexpectedly thoughtful and introspective third act that represents a fitting culmination of everything that's come before it.
Unfortunately, Tatum doesn't have the magnetism of Centurion's Michael Fassbender. (And no, the X-Men: First Class pun doesn't escape me.) He nails stoic... and stoic... and stoic, but little else. He conjures fire in his belly when called upon, but it never burns as hot or as furious as it should. He conveys turmoil convincingly enough, I suppose, but he never threads one emotion to the next, making his performance as disjointed as it is strangely submissive. More than anything, he fails to step out of Bell's shadow. The promising young English actor -- best known for his award-winning debut, Billy Elliot -- is utterly captivating, outmaneuvering veterans (like Sutherland and True Blood's king-vamp, Denis O'Hare), upstaging go-to scene-stealers (an underutilized Mark Strong) and leaving poor Tatum coughing in the dust. Granted, Esca, by his very nature, is more charismatic a character, especially during the film's table-turning second act. But Tatum and Bell share so much screentime that the lesser of the two performances only manages to enhance the greater performance that much more. The Eagle is Marcus' story, yet it's Esca we come to care about, tipping the scales dramatically to the latter half of Macdonald's duo. Had a stronger actor been cast as Marcus, The Eagle might be more than it is. Instead, it's a solid but stilted drama more notable for its simplicity than its power.
The Eagle Blu-ray, Video Quality
In his commentary, director Kevin Macdonald speaks at great length about the intended look of The Eagle, as well as cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle's use of natural lighting and heavy shadow. And the exceedingly filmic results -- as rendered faithfully by Universal's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer -- are as thoroughly evocative as they are occasionally problematic. As sunlight retreats, grain surges and noise invades the darkness left in its place; as the lights grow dim, a hint of crush undermines fine detail and delineation falters. Be that as it may, the Blu-ray presentation stands strong in the face of every challenger, making the most of whatever Macdonald and Mantle have in their arsenal. Colors are rich and earthy, skintones are warm and lifelike, black levels are reasonably deep, and contrast, though inherently inconsistent, rarely falters. Overall detail is excellent as well. When night falls, hair, fabric and coarse surfaces catch whatever light is available; when the sun rises, clarity is outstanding, boasting crisp, clean edge definition and exceptionally well-refined textures; when dusk presses in, the lovely cinematic softness that arrives is pleasing to the eye and in keeping with the filmmakers' intentions. Moreover, grain is unimpeded, foreground elements pop, and it becomes clear that nearly every subtly in the original photography has been preserved. The encode itself is just as remarkable. Artifacting, aliasing and banding are routed at every turn, and smearing and ringing are nowhere to be found. All things considered, the Blu-ray edition of The Eagle looks every bit as good as it presumably could, delivering an arresting -- albeit slightly uneven -- high definition image.
The Eagle Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Eagle is often a quieter film than I anticipated, but its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track leaves a lasting impact all the same. From the chaotic scuffle of a bloody battle to the serene respite of Britain's fields and rivers, little disappoints. Low-end output is rugged and commanding, bolstering every thundering chariot, harrowing foot chase and crushing blow Macdonald hurls at the immersive mix. The rear speakers join the fight with admirable tenacity, wrapping each scene -- be it a hushed conversation between two unlikely friends or an intense life-or-death encounter -- around the listener with chilling precision and deceptive ease. Directionality exhibits deadly accuracy, pans are smooth and convincing, and dynamics have been fine-tuned to perfection. All the while, dialogue remains clean, clear and carefully prioritized, and only a handful of lines are dragged beneath the madness that sometimes erupts. The Eagle may not appeal to everyone, but I seriously doubt its AV presentation is going to draw much criticism. I, for one, was completely taken with it.
The Eagle Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of The Eagle doesn't offer nearly as much as it might first seem. Its unrated cut brings little to the table, its audio commentary isn't exactly begging to be listened to, and its remaining features amount to twenty-five minutes of shoulder-shrugging. On a positive note, though, all of the disc's video content is presented in high definition.
The Eagle Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There's something refreshing about The Eagle's minimalism. It doesn't revel in excess, doesn't stray too far from its source and doesn't try to rise above its means. But it's also a bit too rigid, playing its hands a little too straight. Like Neil Marshall's Centurion, it isn't entirely forgettable, but it isn't entirely memorable either. Universal's Blu-ray release is much better, even if its lackluster supplemental package disappoints. Armed with a faithful video transfer and an able-bodied DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, The Eagle doesn't go into the night as quietly as it might otherwise.
The Eagle: Other Editions
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