Tahar Rahim, left, Jamie Bell, center, and Channing Tatum star...

Tahar Rahim, left, Jamie Bell, center, and Channing Tatum star in the Roman epic adventure "The Eagle." Credit: MCT/Keith Bernstein

It's a strange bird, this "Eagle," a sword-and-sandals epic shot with the claustrophobic visual aesthetic of mid-career Woody Allen, and a return to a kind of grandiose storytelling that seemed long gone, and perhaps forgotten. If you've ever wondered what a Cecil B. DeMille spectacular would look like via the prism of a moderately budgeted independent film, this more or less fills the bill: Grand ideas, small-scale shooting, historical scope, muddled choreography, telescoped into an occasionally hysterical action drama.

It is the year 120 AD, and a chiseled Roman officer, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), is deployed to an imperial outpost in barbaric southern Britain, where he hopes to clear the family name. Years before, his father led the infamous 9th Legion - all 5,000 members of which marched into northern Britain and were never heard from again. Neither was the symbol of their Roman glory, the golden eagle they carried onto the battlefield. If nothing else, Marcus wants the bird back.

Under siege almost immediately by filthy pagan hordes, Marcus' quick thinking saves his men but leaves him gravely wounded. It also leaves him a free agent, unlike Esca (Jamie Bell), the enslaved Briton he takes with him, as he ventures north into a world of blue-painted Celts and primeval forests to find his destiny.

The atmosphere of "The Eagle" is often quite convincing, but the story never gains much traction. To be emotionally invested in the tale, the viewer needs to share Marcus' sense of lost Roman honor, as well as his belief in the eagle as the embodiment of that honor. Tatum's not that good an actor. But under the given circumstances, it's not clear anyone would be.

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