The Eagle

“The Eagle” is a swords and sandals action flick that debuted earlier this year and I watched on DVD, this week. This trajectory speaks better to the quality of this film than anything that I could write here. Set in the year 120 AD, first century Britain is not a happy place. Prolog to this movie, a legion of Rome had marched off into the Scottish wilderness never to be heard from again. At the head of this column of soldiers was a golden eagle standard, the namesake of this tale. At this eagle’s side was the commander of the legion and father to this story’s roman protagonist, Channing Tatum. Flashing forward, Tatum’s charactor is a man and the young commander of a lonely outpost.

This assignment sets up the movie’s opening action sequence, a battle scene that is the film’s highpoint. After the dust settles, Tatum meets his co-star, Jamie Bell, a Briton slave. The two bond and this movie transforms from its war movie origins to a film that is part bromance and part road movie, off these two go, into the Scottish hinterlands, off to recapture the eagle. Ye take the high road and I’ll take the low one and I’ll be in Scotland before ye,…

The ethos of this picture is of ancient Rome, but the underlying zeitgeist is that of a western. The Romans play the part of the Americans, the white people, while the Britons fill-in for the Native Americans, the savages. As savages, the Britons range from the noble variety, such as Bell, to those that are less so. This latter category is epitomized by the Seal people, fierce warriors, who are painted head to toe. They appear more African than Caucasian. This perception is underlined near the end when one of the Seal warriors is felled in the middle of a stream that washes away his makeup, revealing his true skin tone. Unlike the American West, the forces of Western Civilization, embodied in this movie by the Roman Empire, did not win out in the end. Rome withdrew and their retreat ushered in a millennium of further invasions. The ethnicity of Britain evolved with each new invading wave, and continues to evolve to this day. The passage of time makes much of the real world as portrayed in “The Eagle” both unknown and from a 21st century viewpoint unknowable. Absence of fact, the Western makes as good a template as any.

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