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Movie Review

The Eagle

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for battle sequences and some disturbing images.

Reviewed by: Carissa Horton

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Epic Adventure War Drama
1 hr. 50 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
February 11, 2011 (wide—2,150+ theaters)
DVD: June 21, 2011
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Relevant Issues
Featuring: Channing Tatum—Marcus Aquila
Donald Sutherland—Uncle Aquila
Mark Strong—Guern
Jamie Bell—Esca
István Göz—Cohort Centurion
Bence Gerö—Celt Boy / Young Marcus
Denis O'Hare—Lutorius
Paul Ritter—Galba
Zsolt László—Paulus
Julian Lewis Jones—Cassius
Aladár Laklóth—Flavius Aquila
more »
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Producer: Toledo Productions (London, England), Film4 (London, England), Focus Features, more »
Distributor: Focus Features
Copyrighted, Focus Features

The year is 120 A.D. and a legion of 5,000 Romans went into Britain searching for glory. They were never heard from again. After this massive loss of Roman lives, Emperor Hadrian erected a massive wall, splitting Britain in half. The Romans possessed the South side, and no one ever crossed the wall into the Northern country. Fast forward about twenty years. Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum) has just made Centurion in the Roman army. His chosen post is right near Hadrian’s wall. Why? Because his father led the fated 5,000 to their unknown doom.

Marcus exhibits extreme heroism in the face of adversity when Britons attack the Roman stronghold under his command. This heroism results in an injury severe enough that he is transported 200 leagues from his post. Healing comes slowly in the house of his uncle (Donald Sutherland) and while there, Marcus Aquila receives an honorable discharge for his masterful heroism and leadership of his men.

Marcus doesn’t want a discharge. He wants to cross Hadrian’s Wall in search of both his father, the 5,000 lost men, and the eagle standard of Rome they carried so proudly. But until he heals entirely, Marcus has no choice but to impatiently wait, attending sporting events with his uncle. As fate would have it, one of these sporting events alters the course of his future. A young Briton slave named Esca (Jamie Bell) must fight a man twice his size. Yet, he stands fearless before the jeering crowd, ready to accept death. Something in Esca’s pride touches a chord in Marcus Aquila. When everyone else yells “Death” and gestures with a thumb down, Marcus stands and shouts “Life” with his thumb up. Others follow his example, and Esca’s life is spared.

In a twist of fate, Marcus’ uncle purchases Esca to serve as Marcus’ slave during his healing. And with Esca’s purchase, a seed is planted in Marcus’ mind. He is healing, not rapidly, but steadily. Perhaps two men might accomplish what a squadron of men could not. Perhaps, Marcus and Esca would dare to cross Hadrian’s wall in search of answers and the Eagle, the standard of mighty Rome. Nothing will stand in Marcus’ way.

He demands answers, and so he sets out past the Hadrian wall with only Esca as his companion, a slave of a noble Briton house whose loyalties are tenuous at best.

These historic movies are always epic. In the case of “The Eagle,” I was truly surprised because it was not what I expected. I expected Hollywood filming and stylized acting. What the film delivered was an artistic quality where the story takes its time in the telling. Yes, there are battles, and they are very gruesome, but that is not the entire story. There are no monsters, no mythical beasts, just people struggling to survive. Neither side, the Romans or the Britons, are entirely in the right.

In the case of Marcus, he is not invading a culture. He is trying to recapture something that belongs to Rome, and he is doing so with only one companion. Not many men would attempt such a feat. Marcus’ goal is honor for his father’s name and the recovery of Rome for the eagle standard signifies Rome. It’s never easy to watch slavery in progress.

During this film, Marcus discovers a lot about himself, and about his slave. Esca becomes more than a mere servant in his eyes, as they journey together. He finally takes the shape of man, not a possession. As for the violence, much of it is psychological. Throats are going to be slit, but the camera pans away, sparing the audience the sight of gushing blood. Marcus and Esca eat a raw, skinned rat, at one point, because they’re so hungry and can’t risk a fire. Headless bodies hang from trees, an enormous glen is the sacrificial altar of thousands of men with their skeletons visible in mounds, the unseen defiling of corpses by removing their feet, and mention of men getting their hearts ripped out while still alive.

This is really a violent movie. Yet, the violence does not overwhelm the film. It’s not an endless stream of death and blood. It just matches the storyline, existing because it’s a part of the story, not the whole, just a part.

The best thing I can say is that there are no female characters. Oh, the tribes have women in Briton, and the Roman sporting events have women in the stands, but there is no romance, at all. Which is a rather refreshing change, since most of these Romanesque films are awash with scantily clad females. A couple of the men are seen in undergarments a few times, but nothing else.

I was disappointed to see a family in the theater with their 9-year-old son. A 9-year-old has his throat slit in the movie. This child in the audience didn’t need to see that, even though the camera does pan away! What I’m saying is that while “The Eagle” is excellent for history buffs, it’s not meant for families. This isn’t your typical epic with humor tossed in for fun. No, this is a strenuous and dangerous adventure where humor has no place.

Teenagers can handle it, sure, especially if they love Rome or those “Lord of the Ring” type epics. But little children have no place watching a movie where heads are lopped off and rats are eaten raw. Don’t expect the movie to be fast-paced like “Clash of the Titans” or “300,” because it’s not. The story unfolds calmly and on its own playing field. Action occurs, but not so fast that the adrenaline levels are in a continual state of spiking.

“The Eagle” won’t be the best movie of the year, but it’s a sincere look at a vague part of English history. We don’t know what the Celts were really like in 120 A.D. This is just a guess! Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell share testosterone levels and a strange chemistry that grabs the audience by the collar and pulls them into the story. We grow to care about both of their characters, wishing both would survive and that they didn’t have to be at odds with one another. It’s exciting to see Jamie Bell in a new film! The last movie I saw with him was “Nicholas Nickleby” in 2002. It’s high time he had a heroic role.

As for Channing Tatum, “The Eagle” was a great introduction for me. I’ve never seen him in anything else. I can honestly say, I came away with an appreciation for his talent and an excitement to watch him progress in the world of acting.

“The Eagle” isn’t for everyone. The violence will turn some people away, and so it should, but there is no sex, and the language is minimal. For historians, like my sister who went with me, it’s an interesting take on what might have happened at Hadrian’s wall. I loved it, she loved it, and from what I could tell, so did most of our audience.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—A great movie for those who can grasp the concept of parable in this movie. Just like the Lord called His disciples “friend,” when He dwelled in the flesh on this Earth 2000 years ago, the Roman general called his Britan slave his friend at the end of this movie. If we continue to stay in faith which brings forth faithfulness to our Lord, we will experience true freedom, for we are called friend of God!

However, this movie is not for the youngster because the violence.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality:
—I-Ting Chu, age 50 (USA)
Positive—Let me start off by saying I didn’t expect much from this movie! BUT was I ever in for a surprise!! This movie was BRILLIANT! and I can’t get over it! it truly was amazing! From the plot line to the graphic effects. I’m so glad nudity and sex were none existent. I will warn that it takes a little while to get going! But, once it gets going, you will be glad you stuck with it!

Don’t take your kids to see it! But if you’re just hanging with the guys, or want to get a couple buddies (or girlfriends) together and see it, it’ll be worth the money you pay!! Biblically, this movie had one objectionable point, and that was that of language usage! But, I could only count 3 instances where that was an issue.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—William T, age 18 (Canada)
Positive—“The Eagle” has landed! This is the first movie I have “paid” to go see in a theater in a long time. Being a fan of Roman history, it seemed like an ideal choice. I was not disappointed! The film was expertly crafted, with attention to detail, rarely seen in this type of film. The scenes depicting Roman legion battle tactics are intensely accurate.

In one particular scene, the Roman soldiers under the lead of Marcus Aquila (Tatum), form what was commonly called “the Tortoise” or the Testudo defensive formation. It is a tactic in which the unit essentially turns itself into a walking tank, with shields above, behind and in front. The scene was brilliantly executed. And one could not help but be struck by the devotion it took for the soldiers in that kind of formation, not to break rank.

There is great spiritual insight which can be gleaned from many Roman battle tactics. Especially the “tortoise.” The metaphor of a group of men, devoted to the protection of one another at all costs, is certainly something that can be applied to the Christian experience. Through prayer, through wise counsel, through the clear teaching of the Word of God, we find ourselves stronger together than we are apart. Willing to stand our common ground together, shields above, in front, and behind. It is in this way that the power and influence of our enemy, the Devil and his legions are soundly defeated.

Apart from the idea of “brothers in arms” helping one another, “The Eagle” highlights a term which has all but lost its meaning in popular culture… “honor.” For the honor of Marcus’ father, they set out on a quest to find the lost Eagle Standard. Marcus’ slave Esca (Bell) sets out with him, bound by “honor” to protect the man who saved his life in the arena.

As has been mentioned in the “main review” of the film, this is not a movie for young children. However, compared to many films of this kind, the violence is realistic but not overbearing. The violence in the film only helps to accentuate the accurate portrayal of a relationship bound by a willingness to do the right thing, now matter what the cost. Certainly Marcus’ devotion to Roman pagan gods is not something to emulate, however the fact that he is an honorable man, willing to lay down his life for his men, for his country and for his father’s honor, is certainly worth commending.

Hats off to director Kevin MacDonald, for having the fortitude to buck the trend of mindless CGI-driven slop, and put out a quality product, a solid story, with historical significance and a message rarely seen in films today; honor, duty, courage, and sacrifice.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Russ Sterger, age 53 (USA)
Positive—It has been awhile since I’ve read The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff… but unless I’m forgetting something, this has to be one of the closest book-to-movie adaptations that I’ve ever seen! It happens so often that Hollywood will completely change a story from what was written in the book; or if not the entire plot, then at least SOMETHING… that I’ve just come to expect and accept it. In this book, although there were a few skirmishes, there was more story than action. I was completely okay with that, but I expected Hollywood to add a few more battles. They didn’t! I was so pleasantly surprised.

Throughout this film, I just kept marveling over how close it was following the book. Normally, it would have bugged me that the Romans had American accents; but I thought it worked for this movie, because it helped emphasize the difference between the Romans and the Britons. I would totally recommend it, whether you’ve read the book or not. WARNING TO ACTION MOVIE BUFFS: You might get bored.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Dana Ralph, age 19 (USA)




Comments from young people
Positive—…It was really good, lots of war and stuff, but it’s great for a real understanding of that time and those type of people. If you love history you will love this movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: / Moviemaking quality:
—Liz, age 16 (USA)
Positive—I saw this movie the day it came out. All I can really say is I loved it to pieces. Granted, it’s PG-13 for a reason. There were at least two major battle sequences, which were pretty intense. All around, it’s very brutal, but most of the direct, in-cold-blood violence is depicted off-screen. Not for the faint of heart! It’s treated almost like a documentary—it feels very real, like this might have happened in real life, just like how the book was written.

Spiritually content: Marcus prays to Roman gods, and the Britons have their gods. Even though that may be considered offensive, it’s historically correct. Oh, and when Marcus and Esca are at the Seal People’s village, there is a ritual ceremony that feels voodoo-ish, but it’s fairly brief and isn’t, though the priest could possibly disturb some people. Again, not for the faint of heart!

Directly, there is nothing applicable for the believer, though there are many things that can be gleaned from it if you watch closely. There is some language, but considering the kind of movie this is, it’s the barest of barest minimum. I was impressed. And no romance! That was a refreshing relief, too.

Fans of the book may not be happy with the tweaks to the story, but I, a die-hard fan of the book, still loved it after the end. It was a very good movie. The acting was great, except *maybe* Mark Strong’s character, Guern. But besides that, two thumbs up! And the landscapes were so beautiful you might want to cry. The music is incredible, too.

Fans of Channing Tatum and/or Jamie Bell won’t be disappointed, either, I must say. Very brutal, but a very, very good film. It’s just as touching and arresting as the book. Anyone who can deal with blood and gut-wrenching acts of killing (one of the Seal People kills his own son… awful!), and love Roman Britain and high adventure, please go watch this movie! You’ll fall in love with it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Abigail Magsarili, age 14 (USA)
Positive—Amazing movie! I was studying Roman history in school and this fit right in with what I was studying. Great acting, amazing fight scenes, and awesome story line. I heard a total of three swears, and all in the first half hour. No innappropriate scenes of any kind. The violence wasn’t overly gory, but leave the kids (under 10) at home. I am planning to go see this again! It’s worth the money!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Brianna, age 14 (USA)
Positive—…it was great …good for ages 15+ …there was some strong violence that made me wonder if it should have been R, because of heads cut off and just hand to hand combat, but, overall, a great movie to go and watch!!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Devin, age 17 (USA)