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Review: 'The Eagle' a ham-handed take on swords and sandals

By Steve Persall

Times Film Critic

Nothing in The Eagle can be taken seriously, starting with its Wikipedia-ready intro explaining everything complex that occurred before the simple-minded action flick you're going to see.

Funny that a movie geared to people who don't like subtitles makes them read so much.

Listening to The Eagle is equally amusing, with second century Romans speaking in modern syntax, and a trumped-up musical score insisting importance. Plus, a lot of guttural screaming when warriors collide, in battle scenes filmed in the confusion-cam style of extreme close-ups and indecipherable editing.

It's tempting to call The Eagle a parody of those old sword-and-sandal epics occasionally starring Tony Curtis' Bronx accent. That might be giving director Kevin Macdonald more credit for humor and genre affection than he deserves.

But that didn't prevent me from silently chortling at much of The Eagle, and mildly enjoying it for that reason. There's something to like about a movie composed of so much hogwash yet plowing ahead as if it were Spartacus. I felt free to notice the uncanny resemblance between Channing Tatum's acting and a gladiator wearing an expressionless iron mask, and that Billy Elliot swapped ballet shoes for a dagger.

Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, son of a deceased and disgraced Roman officer whose legion disappeared in northern England, where grimy rebels dwell. Five thousand soldiers were lost, but everyone cares more about the golden eagle emblem now in enemy hands. Marcus is appointed commander of reluctant forces in no-man's land, with a rescue mission in mind.

Plans change when Marcus is severely injured in battle, by a crazy Scottish dude riding a chariot with Ben-Hur hubcaps. Marcus gets an honorable discharge he doesn't want and a place to stay with his uncle (Donald Sutherland, who seems in on the joke). They catch a gladiator match for fun, where Marcus' raised thumb changes everyone else's minds and spares the life of the slave Esca (Jamie Bell).

Marcus and Esca bond over physical rehab and a wild boar hunt before taking off into enemy territory, their route helpfully illustrated by a superimposed map with dotted lines. They meet the dreaded Seal People — all chalky paint and body piercings — causing Esca to pose as Marcus' master, so the sandal is on the other foot. A drunken bonfire and pants-off dance-off ensues, while some guy wearing antlers holds that golden eagle.

Yes, The Eagle is as bad as it sounds but also entertaining, in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of way that Macdonald didn't intend. It's probably loud enough to drown out whispered peanut gallery comments, so be my guest. That way you'll feel much better about paying for a ticket.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

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The Eagle

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Denis O'Hare, Tahar Rahim, Dakin Matthews

Screenplay: Jeremy Brock, based on the novel The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

Rating: PG-13; violence, disturbing images

Running time: 114 min.

Grade: B-

Review: 'The Eagle' a ham-handed take on swords and sandals 02/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 3:30am]
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