'Eagle' Delivers Insipid Tale of Sword-and-Sandal Bravado


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The first 20 minutes of "The Eagle" show great promise, a small surprise that quickly gives way to the derivative action schlock that one might expect.

Based on the 1954 novel "The Eagle of the Ninth," the flick eschews the epic proportions of other sword-and-sandal stories in favor of a gritty buddy adventure into the wild lands of Roman Britain. "The Eagle" transposes the book to the screen with Channing Tatum playing the young Roman commander and with Jamie Bell as his British slave. Driven by his father's disappearance while on patrol in the Highlands of Scotland, Tatum enlists Bell to be his guide as he searches for the titular eagle, the standard and symbol of his father's honor.

This plot is so familiar and predictable it feels like a bricolage of Joseph Campbell, J.R.R. Tolkien and "The Maltese Falcon." Quest, friendship, object, repeat. And because the story runs off the side of a cliff multiple times, the writers are forced to invoke deus ex machinas again and again, another irritating Tolkien trope.

The sheer frustration of such tried-and-true action formulas might have been less severe if the first set-piece of the film weren't so shockingly clever, intriguing and most of all: enjoyable. Director Kevin Macdonald introduces both Tatum's legionnaire and his command in an eerily familiar way. Tatum arrives at a military base on the edge of the world filled with disgruntled troops inside and hostile natives outside. The deputies of the legion advise against patrols, content to stay behind the walls until their tour is up. More and more, this Roman outpost starts to resemble Khe Sahn or Basra. The film also runs counter to the cinematic tradition of English-language films of the British actors playing the imperialist Romans. In "The Eagle," Americans are talking about pacifying the local populace.

Speaking of pacifying Americans: Channing Tatum has quickly established himself as a man in uniform. From the angry Steve Shriver in "Stop-Loss" to the saccharine John of "Dear John," Tatum has aligned himself with the American fighting men; fittingly, he brought the plastic but chiseled G.I. Joe to life in 2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." And here now is yet another martial role for the young Alabaman; the character may be a Cincinnatus type but the filmmakers makes every effort to make him sound and act like Alvin York.

It is now clear that the man is trying to re-invent John Wayne. Which is fine of course, except Tatum doesn't bring anything new or substantial to the these Man-at-War roles. There is, perhaps, something novel in the way he portrays inner anguish over his wounds - both physical and psychological; but it comes across as grotesquely false - a lot of shouting, not enough stoicism. This makes him merely adequate as a soldier; he can certainly swing a sword, but Tatum cannot lead.

Venture into the wild lands of Roman Britain with Derek at [email protected]

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