"The Eagle" is a compelling swords and sandals adventure movie based on a legendary story with solid direction, acting and action.

The movie is directed by Kevin Macdonald, who directed the acclaimed "The King of Scotland" (2006), for which Forest Whitaker received an actor Oscar.

Jeremy Brock ("The Last King of Scotland") wrote the screenplay, based on the novel, "The Eagle of the Ninth" by Rosemary Sutcliff.

"The Eagle," while it has action aplenty, is thankfully without a lot of graphic violence in its four major battle scenes.

Instead, Macdonald emphasizes the story's inherent human drama, of the bond, challenges and elements of apparent betrayal between a Roman centurion, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), and his British slave Esca (Jamie Bell).

Essentially, "The Eagle" is a quest film. In 120 A.D., Aquila is trying to reclaim his father's honor in Rome-ruled Britain by locating the Eagle gold emblem that heralded the ninth regiment of some 5,000 soldiers, who disappeared somewhere north of Hadrian's Wall into the highlands of Caledonia.

Aquila comes face to face with savage tribesmen, known as the Seal Men, who are caked in blue mud (shades of "Avatar"). His courage and cunning is put to the test.

Without reading too much into the storyline, questions are raised about the parallels between the loyalty of an indigenous person to that of an occupying army.

Whether intentional or not, not too much is made of this aspect. Rather, "The Eagle" tells a rip-roaring good tale, set against the wild and inspiring scenery of Scotland.

The battle scenes are realistic, albeit blurred and rapidly edited, so that you can't really tell what's going on, except that the actors seem to be really fighting.

Tatum ("Dear John," "G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra") has a commanding presence, but the screenplay doesn't give him a lot to say or do.

Bell ("Billy Elliot") is equally intriguing, albeit in a gaunt and wan contrast to the hulking and buff Tatum.

The casting of Donald Sutherland as Aquila's uncle is a surprising and nice touch.

"The Eagle" is no-nonsense, traditional, old-fashioned film-making.

"The Eagle," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for battle sequences and some disturbing images; Genre: Adventure; Run Time: 1 hr., 54 min.; Distributed by Focus Features.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Eagle" was filmed on location in Scotland and Hungary.

Box Office, Feb. 11: Movie-goers decided to "Just Go With It" on Valentine's Day weekend, boosting the Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy to a No. 1 opening, with $31 million, narrowly keeping "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," at No. 2, with $30.2 million; and holding the 3-D animated feature, "Gnomeo & Juliet" at No. 3, opening with $25.5 million, and "The Eagle" at No. 4, opening with a disappointing $8.5 million.

5. "The Roommate," dropping from No. 1, $8.4 million, $26 million; 6. "The King's Speech" dropped two notches, $7.4 million, $93.8 million, 12 weeks; 7. "No Strings Attached," $5.6 million, $59.8 million, four weeks; 8. "Sanctum," $5.1 million, $17.5 million, two weeks; 9. "True Grit," $3.7 million, $160.3 million, eight weeks; 10. "The Green Hornet," $3.6 million, $92.3 million, five weeks

Unreel, Feb. 18: "I Am Number 4," Rated PG-13: Teen-age aliens arrive on Earth after their planet is destroyed by an enemy species. Guess who followed them here? Three have already been killed. Starring are Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant and Dianna Agron.

"Unknown," Rated PG-13. Liam Neeson stars as a doctor who, awakening from a coma, discovers his identify has been stolen. The film also stars Diane Kruger and January Jones.

"Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son," Rated PG-13. Martin Lawrence and his nephew (Brandon T. Jackson) go undercover at an all-girls' performing arts high school.

Read previous movie reviews at www.tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein@tnonline.com and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes