UPDATE: This was originally a review of the DVD, but now having the Blu-ray in my possession I’ve updated the second section.

The Eagle sets out to explore the curious disappearance of the Ninth Legion, who ventured into the wilds of Scotland and vanished. Channing Tatum’s Roman commander Marcus Aquila, whose father led the Ninth Legion, is wounded in battle and discharged from the army and struggles to find a foothold in civilian life until the chance comes to head north and discover what became of his father, and the five thousand men in his charge.

Accompanied by his slave, the stoic and irascible Esca, played by Jamie Bell, the Roman travels beyond Hadrian’s Wall and beyond the edge of the known world in search of The Eagle, the Ninth’s Legion’s standard, to encounter resistance and help from unexpected quarters.

No matter how familiar a story if you tell it well it will seem like new. The master/slave dynamic of the two leads is turned on its head and eventually finds an easy balance as they fight side by side and find common ground on which to do so through the untames Scottish highlands. The actors are initially very convincing and Tatum’s character in particular engages early on and the pair’s initial journey northwards is a compelling one. Only when they encounter the Apocalypto-esque Seal People tribe and the master necessarily becomes the slave does the film become fused to a clear and easily defined path. Suddenly the characters fall into place and their actions, their emotional development and their dialogue become obvious and the film loses its original spark. The film’s success hinges on their development together and this aspect of the film falters as the have to change places and never recovers.

Tatum and Bell’s itinerant pair are supported ably by some excellent work from Donald Sutherland’s powerful Roman politician and Mark Strong, whose character sadly is similarly affected as the film’s close draws near which is a shame as his character’s introductory scene is indicative of why I enjoyed the film’s early stages.

It felt like a familiar story, told well and it refused to resort to the gory soaked rampancy of recent, similar fare. The story is an intriguing one, MacDonald knows how to keep us involved in the character’s journey and the cinematography was solid, though the wild and serene Scottish vistas looked beautiful the early battle scenes did occasionally suffer from a scatter-gun approach to its choice of shots and momentum and a sense of location was lost.

Kevin MacDonald know his way around a story and makes the most of what Jeremy Brock’s screenplay offers, however there are some  missteps in tone, not least the very end which severely undermined the serious nature of what went before.

The Eagle begins well, offers a compelling mystery and sidesteps the wash of bloodwork of other films in the arena but doesn’t maintain its hold on what made this telling of the story compelling.

Film: [Rating:2.5/5]

Special Features:

  • Alternate Ending which makes more sense thematically but doesn’t so much end the film as move the audience slowly away from it while it is still playing out. Nice to have, despite my problem with the ending they chose I think they made the right choice.
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Eagle: The Making Of A Roman Epic – Featurette with talking heads etc, which sits well with the commentary with Kevin MacDonald talking about the desire for an authentic look for the film. A worthy addition which illuminates certain stylistic choices with the thematic decisions not given the same time. However…

Blu-ray extra (and DVD extra exclusive to Sainsbury):

  • Making the Eagle: This 45 minute documentary is a wonderful addition to the disc, with the story behind the film told in great detail from the initial concept of a grand, sweeping epic tale scaled back to a more personal and intimate film following the likes of Troy and Alexander being released. The boot camp section and the construction of the impressive sets and costumes brings a deeper appreciation of the grasp for realism and underlies the passion of the film makers to bring this story to the film as authenically as possible. The location interviews capture the film making process very well, with each department adding a layer of detail to our overall understanding of the film, and there is a sense at the end that something genuinely exciting has been achieved. It’s very easy for talking heads and the occasional press interviews to be layered over trailer footage but this in-depth look tells its own story and following the film’s production from the very first day to the last is very enjoyable and well worth taking the time to watch.

A further note on the Blu-ray: Now that I’ve had the chance to see the film on DVD and Blu-ray I urge you if possible to get the film on Blu as the colours and the beautiful landscapes look incredible. The detail, which only becomes apparent in high definition, is part of what the Making of documentaries focus on a lot of the time. I usually recommed the Blu-ray in most cases and this is the reason why I do so.

Disc: [Rating2.5/5]

Blu-ray and DVD with Making the Eagle: [Rating: 4/5]