The Eagle (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl
As we type this, we stare at an eagle. It hangs majestically in the window in front of our computer, obscuring a rather dull wooden fence that separates us from our next-door’s semi-retired bounty hunter and the mysterious goings-on of his family. It’s a stained-glass eagle, sitting on a bit of stained-glass wood. The sun is a smooth, circular stone set in a yolk of sky. The eagle stares down at some unseen prey; when the real sun sets just right, it shoots a pulsating ray of light through the little chip of the eagle’s eye and sets everything in its path aflame. This is an eagle our grandmother made, sometime back in the 70s, in Hanover, Illinois. Would that we had stayed at home and contemplated its burnished tones so redolent with incipient metaphor—of family, of art, of ambition and talent and circumstance—for two hours, rather than go see the steaming booger of a film screenwriter Jeremy Brock and director Kevin Macdonald cobbled together out of grimy-yet-viscous night-mucus from each of their noses, wiping it on the fat arm of producer Duncan Kenworthy so that he might sniff once of it and lick it off. The taste of multiple other people’s boogers is about the closest synesthetic description we can offer of this movie.
This movie made all of the other bad movies we have seen over the course of the years look like masterpieces of irony, wit, and invention. This movie could have been ten minutes long and still covered all the main points—the “other” is just like us! Rome wasn’t built in a day! Empire bad! Slavery bad! Slave people too! Celtic music stirring! Symbols important but shouldn’t be too important!—but then it still would have been eight minutes too long, depending on if you’ve been asleep for the past forty years and missed Dances With Wolves, Gladiator, Ben Hur, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Braveheart, Avatar, Last of the Mohicans, Lord of the Rings…Just about any movie covers the same territory as The Eagle but better. Better, we realized within the first scene, because quicker. Better because more trusting. The Eagle’s problems, though multiple, are all cancerous tendrils snaking from the fat growth of the screenwriters’ misdiagnosis of audience: we are all way, way, way smarter than this movie. We are all way smarter than any movie, but a good movie, like a good anything—person, painting, poem—makes you feel for a second that you are smarter because of it, that in understanding it you are lifted out of the last concentric circle of your initial, pre-acquaintance cleverness and into an entirely new ring of acuity. For the duration of The Eagle we were brought uncomfortably close to the dark, null void at the center of our intelligence. Luckily, some illegal drive-texts catapulted us back to at least pre-movie circumferences. “What did The Eagle stand for really?” we asked. “The Eagle is congressional funding,” Mark replied. “The Eagle is the triumph of Taco Bell over McDonalds,” we replied. Mark’s response: “The Eagle is its own sequel.”