Early on in Eddie the Eagle, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) shows Michael "Eddie" Edwards (Taron Egerton) one of the world's best ski jumpers taking a practice run. The jumper loses his form mid-air and violently crashes. As he's carted off in a stretcher, Peary tells Edwards, “And he knew what he was doing.”
The danger of ski jumping is a major theme of Eddie the Eagle, the loosely-based story of Edwards, a British athlete who became the first to represent his country in ski jumping in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary simply because the rules allowed him to do so. He finished dead last in both the 70 meter and 90 meter jumps, but became the most covered athlete of the games along with the Jamaican bobsled team.
Some spectators felt he was making a mockery of the sport, including the International Olympic Committee, which consequently established the “Eddie the Eagle” rule that set minimum requirement standards for all the athletes. Others admired his spirit, including Frank King, CEO of the 1988 Olympic Games Organizing Committee, who said, “At these Games, some competitors have won gold, some have broken records, and some of you have even soared like an eagle." Regardless of one’s opinion of him, it is the constant reminder of the physical perils involved in ski jumping that keeps this film from being a misfired comedy and makes it an exceptional sports film.
The film begins with an adolescent Edwards just getting out of knee braces and trying his luck at various Summer Olympic sports. When he fails at all of them, he takes up skiing. He becomes pretty good, winning several competitions, but not quite good enough to make Britain’s 1988 Olympic team. This rejection leads Edwards to decide to take up ski jumping, a sport with a small fraternity of competitors who begin competitive jumping as children, not as 22-year-old men. To give you perspective, only 20 countries competed in ski jumping in the 2014 games and they all have many slopes, abundant snow and ski jump complexes. Britain has none of these.
Edwards travels to a ski jump complex in Germany, where he throws himself into training. He meets the cool resistance of his fellow athletes and Peary, a washed-up former American jumper who is the complex’s groundskeeper and resident drunk, but his determination warms their hearts and Peary agrees to train him.
In addition to the good balance between danger and light-hearted humor, this film is propelled by the performances of Egerton and Jackman. One look at a photo of the real Edwards and you can see Egerton’s transformation to an individual with no delusions of grandeur, but a sole focus to just compete. Jackman is completely believable as an exceptional athlete contemplating how his personal choices drove him away from greatness. The only area where you have to suspend disbelief is in the fact that he can drink a bottle of whiskey a day and still look like... well, Hugh Jackman. The dynamic of how these two make each other better is the most rewarding aspect of the movie.
Jo Hartley is very touching as Edwards’ mother, who continues to support her son despite his continued failings and vocal pushback from her husband. Many cast members are charming in their support of Edwards, but Hartley shines the brightest.
Rated PG-13, the film is directed by Dexter Fletcher, a recognizable face in films since he began acting at the age of 10. His two previous directorial efforts, Sunshine on Leith and Wild Bill (not the 1995 western starring Jeff Bridges), garnered critical acclaim. Eddie the Eagle is his first big-budget effort but he manages to give it the creative feel of an indie film. Two areas that stand out are the multiple perspectives of a ski jump and the bleakness of Britain’s artificial ski slopes.
Eddie the Eagle also accurately captures the late 1980s in look and feel, thanks in part to a great and nostalgic score by Matthew Margeson and carefully selected songs from the period. If Van Halen’s “Jump” had not been released more than three decades ago, you would believe it was written for this film when it plays.
All great sports movies have to remind us that heart is not defined by championships. Eddie the Eagle recognizes this and accomplishes its goal.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.