The Eagle

The Eagle seems to be billed as an action-packed near-thriller. Instead, it is a fairly slow-moving look at how a young man’s idea of honor is tempered by the realities of the world around him. And it’s pretty good, too.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released February 11, 2011

Written by Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Rosemary Sutcliff

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, and Denis O’Hare

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) is determined to win back the honor lost by his father. His father was the leader of the Ninth legion of the Roman Empire, whose standard was a golden eagle, and which legion was completely lost/destroyed somewhere north of Hadrian’s wall.

That’s right: the year is 140 AD and Rome runs most of the world.

So Marcus has risen in the ranks of centurions and has just received a new commission in Britain, where he is in charge of a garrison and its fort. He leads his men in an impressive rout of attacking natives, being badly injured in the process. Due to the injury, Marcus has the opportunity to travel north and find the lost eagle standard, whereupon he would win back the honor to his family name. He convinces his uncle (Sutherland) to let him go, and that his slave, Esca (Bell), will not stab him on the journey.

So Marcus and Esca head north, with Esca having pledged his honor to Marcus due to a debt Esca feels he owes. Adventures ensue as Marcus has his ideas about honor challenged and he starts to find reason to break from the Roman party line regarding how honor is won. At the same time, the relationship between Esca and Marcus is explored as duty gives way to respect and friendship.

Critique

The Eagle is, again, not an action-packed thrill ride. It’s also not too concerned with accents, accuracy, and geography. But this film gets a few things right.

First off, the writing and direction allows for extended, character-building scenes, wherein multiple conflicts help the audience see what the characters are truly made of. Furthermore, there are some solid surprises that come from characters’ decisions and there are plenty of opportunities for characters to redeem themselves.

Secondly, the movie is well cast. Given that the film is not really a dramatic actioner but is instead a sometimes dramatic, sometimes stolid, sometimes tense, exploration of friendship and honor and loyalty, it is nice that the actors are young and can convincingly demonstrate a real arc. This arc shows the young men going from somewhat naive to a more grounded outlook on life.

The film is also beautifully shot and very well paced. The Eagle might not satisfy action film fans’ bloodlust and desire for colorful explosions, but it delivers an almost gentle resolution for Marcus, wherein he realizes his life is his own to live and honor is an every day thing.

Issues that don’t allow The Eagle to truly take off include a somewhat stolid pace and not quite enough effort from Tatum. It’s kind of slow at times and Tatum is very serious here. It might have been nice to explore a little more humor.

Content warnings: Some somewhat bloody violence.  

Writing: 4          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 3.5

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Man on a Ledge

Man on a Ledge is an interesting premise for a heist film. Unfortunately, it’s not much more than that.

Here’s a trailer:

Here are the deets:

Released January 27, 2012

Written by Pablo F. Fenjves

Directed by Asger Leth

Starring Elizabeth Banks, Genesis Rodriguez, Sam Worthington, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Ed Burns, Anthony Mackie, Kyra Sedgwick, Titus Welliver, and William Sadler

Rated PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Nick Cassidy (Worthington), a former cop, has been convicted of stealing a massive diamond from real estate magnate David Englander (Harris) while moonlighting as a guard. Cassidy is innocent, of course, and at his father’s funeral, he gets in a fight with his brother Joey (Bell) and escapes from custody.

This sets a complex plan into motion, a plan wherein Nick and Joey, along with Joey’s girlfriend Angie (Rodriguez) will exonerate Nick while getting the real bad guy, Englander, his just desserts. Part of the plan is for Nick to get attention while standing on a ledge, preparing to kill himself.

When Nick goes on the ledge, a tough, damaged police negotiator, Lydia Mercer (Banks), shows up and starts trying to talk Nick off the ledge. Along with Lydia you have a detective named Dougherty (Burns) and a team leader by the name of Dante Marcus (Welliver).

It becomes pretty clear that Nick is up to something and the audience gets to watch Nick stall Lydia and the cops while Joey and Angie pull off a daring heist in Englander’s building. Nick and Joey have thought of everything and have pulled together some impressive resources for a couple of not-very-successful New Yorkers.

The heist devolves into a climactic chase and shoot-out and the good and bad guys get exactly what you expect.

Critique

For a film with some pretty smart and clever stuff, there’s nothing about Man on a Ledge that is surprising or unpredictable. You can see the twists and reveals coming from a mile off. That said, it does deliver a few tense moments and some pretty clever trickery and sleight-of-hand. Its pace and length are also such that the movie stays as entertaining as it can throughout.

The problem is that the script doesn’t deliver what the premise promised. Too much shoot-out, too much muscle come into play to resolve the conflicts. With a clever and slick idea, you want brains to come up with smart solutions to outfox the bad guy.

What’s more, the central deceit of the film, regarding a diamond that may or may not have been stolen or hidden for purposes of insurance fraud, is kind of lame. Really? Insurance fraud?

Finally, the cast reads pretty well. Elizabeth Banks is a good actress, and she does what she can sort of, but her character is uninspiring and thus her performance is somewhat dull. Sam Worthington shouldn’t be headlining movies. Heck, he really needs to take acting lessons before he does any more movies at all. Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez are the standouts; their exchanges are fun and interesting because these two seem like real people.

Ed Burns is a good actor, but he has little to do and thus does little. And Ed Harris, you can do better. Come on. All he needed was a mustache to twirl.

Man on a Ledge is an entertaining film, but isn’t much of a thriller and doesn’t do much beyond fill in the blanks in your regular old humdrum heist film template. Actors with a little more energy might have elevated the mediocre script.

Content warnings: violence, some language

Writing: 3          Acting: 3           Overall: 3

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