BRITISH WRITER Rosemary Sutcliff wrote dozens of YA historical novels, most of them set during the Roman Empire. Her books are rich with period detail, superb characterizations, and plenty of action—in other words, they're fantastic adventure stories, and they're not just for younger readers. One of Sutcliff's best books, 1954's The Eagle of the Ninth, has been made into a movie directed by Kevin Macdonald, who was responsible for The Last King of Scotland and the harrowing documentary Touching the Void. Why, then, is The Eagle so dour and unpleasant?
At least part of it has to do with lead Channing Tatum, who resembles not a person so much as a mound of wet dough. Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, a Roman centurion discharged from service following an injury while stationed in Britain. With his slave Esca (Jamie Bell) in tow, Marcus travels north beyond Hadrian's Wall, to Caledonia, in an attempt to retrieve the ceremonial golden eagle that was lost by his father many years ago, when he held command of the Ninth Legion. The eagle—along with Marcus' father and all 5,000 members of his company—were never seen again, disappeared into a land populated by hostile tribes of painted Pictish warriors.
Sutcliff's book should have borne a far better movie than this; Tatum's doughiness aside, The Eagle is gloomily and humorlessly shot. Buried under a morose, dim look, the film strives to take on greater weight than it needs to. It also feels surprisingly bloodthirsty, as if would prefer to be a gruesome bloodbath—somewhat problematic, considering the movie's YA-novel source. In the end, The Eagle never really shows much in the way of gore, but I wonder if that would have helped things—as it is, The Eagle is simply boring. That's something one could never say about Sutcliff's books.