Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my thoughts on The Eagle, a sword and sandal epic from The Last King of Scotland’s Kevin Macdonald.
I’m kind of baffled by my colleagues’ positive reactions to this movie, to be honest. With all respect to them and their opinions I don’t see how anyone can view this movie as anything but a missed opportunity.
The story, about a disgraced son of a Roman hero ventures out into the wilderness of North Britain in search of the golden Eagle his father lost with his newly found friend/slave in tow, is solid, the cast is pretty strong, the director’s a quality filmmaker… so why is this movie so bland?
I know the instinct is to point and blame Channing Tatum. I would have assumed that myself thanks to his many dead-eyed performances leading up to this one, but when I saw Ron Howard’s The Dilemma (itself a poor movie) I was shocked at how much life, energy and charisma Tatum brought to his tiny role as the hot young thing Winona Ryder’s character is having an affair with.
Tatum is actually pretty good in The Eagle, at least as good as he can be with such on the nose casting. They’re trying to make his character somewhere between Leonidas and Maxiumus, which isn’t a bad note to strike if the script had been able to support the character better.
It’s not Tatum that should receive the criticism, but the screenwriter Jeremy Brock… and maybe the editor, too, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
If you end up seeing the movie pay close attention to the dialogue. More than half of the words spoken in the movie explain to the audience exactly what they’re seeing. “This is what we’re doing right now!” “Yes, right now this is what we’re doing!” type of stuff.
There’s even a moment towards the end of the movie where the characters have to explain, while running for their lives, why their pursuers will eventually catch up with them despite the fact that our heroes are on horseback and their pursuers are on foot. Twice. Two different times they explain this as they gallop across picturesque landscapes.
Donald Sutherland’s character pops up in the story early on and acts as Old Man Exposition, especially during the scene that introduces Jamie Bell’s slave character. Poor Donald Sutherland then has to spew out dialogue explaining everything about Bell’s character to Tatum and us, the viewing audience… all during an arena game.
The writing couldn’t be more rushed, on the nose and bland. Bland, bland, bland. So goes the writing, so goes the movie.
To be fair, Brock might not have been the only one to blame for this script, but he’s the only credited writer so he gets the brunt of my disappointment.
Macdonald isn’t an innocent in this mess either. He made a stylistic choice to go for a naturalistic light, which works well in the early battle scenes as the Romans do battle in open field, but it makes the rest of the early part of part of the film feel like a soap opera. Later on, as Tatum and Bell journey into the wilds of North Britain, the mood changes to grays, which is better but still uninteresting.
I have to give a lot of credit to Jamie Bell. He gets the MVP award for doing the most with the material. There’s a complexity to his character, played mostly with his eyes and body language… Lord knows it’s not his dialogue that puts any of this across… that really made me long for a much better version of this story to be unfolding.
Another fault of the movie is it’s lack of any sort of edge. You can tell they wanted to have more violence in the battle scenes, but they always cut away. I don’t need my sword and sandal flicks to be all blood and guts, but when the cut-aways become distracting to the action you have a problem. And distracting it is, not just during the battles. We’re see some Predator-ish “warnings” upon entering the wild unknown the footage is as choppy as Rush Limbaugh’s bathwater.
The word that best describes the movie should be obvious by now… hell, I’ve used it enough in this article. Bland. It’s just bland, but the frustrating kind of bland… You’ll be able to see the better movie in there, even with all these same elements in place they could have done better. I shit you not, they got Mark Strong as a mysterious character met upon the journey and waste him completely. How do you do that? You have a feral man played by Mark Strong, who actually has a good arc, and you make him feel like a plot device instead of a character?
The flick is a big missed opportunity. If you go see it you’ll have something to hold on to with Bell’s great performance and Tatum’s solid, if uninteresting performance… and that’s about it. The rest of the movie is either okay or mediocre, only once or twice being bad enough to get some unintended laughter out of.