Russell Crowe is already slated to take the role of William Eaton the protagonist of this piece and a diplomat entirely unlike those that currently populate “Foggy Bottom” in Washington, DC. A former soldier and erstwhile ambassador to Tunisia for President Jefferson, Eaton is a genuine piece of work – scholar, statesman, firebrand he is entirely unlike most of our diplomats today and more’s the pity.
It should be said up front that Mr. Monahan must have had in his mind when he penned this piece some of the challenges which we in the United States face in today’s world – terrorism and criminal thugs with unbridled audacity. The appropriate response to terrorism and extortion appears to be the theme of this work which descibes the activities of the Bashaw of Tripoli and his infamous Barbary pirates. These cut-throat thug plied a thriving trade of murder, extortion, kidnapping and piracy throughout the Mediterranean Sea operating out of their base in Tripoli. No nation was immune to this indiscriminate plundering and many paid tribute (protection money) to the Bashaw to try to keep him happy.
The fledgling United States, and especially William Eaton, did not appreciate this modus operandi but the Bashaw of Tripoli, dyed in the wool thug that he was, thought that he could with impunity stick his thumb in the collective eye of civilization. The opening scenes of the film recount the immediate results of US displeasure as the frigate USS Philadelphia stands in to the harbor at Tripoli with guns blazing and in headlong pursuit of the Bashaw’s pirates. Although marked by bravado it is an ill-advised move for the Philadelphia soon runs aground and the ship and her crew are quickly at the mercy of the Bashaw’s merry men. The ship’s officer’s are imprisoned and held for ransom while their less fortunate seamen wind up as common – and badly abused – slave laborers. It’s a bad business all around. Among the mishandled American officers are Lieutenants O’Bannon and Parker. These two will not resign themselves to their situation and are inwardly seething to get back at their captors.
Several hundred miles away Ambassador William Eaton decides to take matters into his own hands and sets out single-handedly to demand the release of American seamen. Without giving away too many details this episode will establish Eaton as a force to be reckoned with, A hotheaded individual he may be but he is not a man with which to trifle. Eaton’s mission to Tripoli does not go well and he soon finds himself in the slammer with O’Bannon and Parker in whom he finds fellow spirits.
The trio plans to make good their escape and are about to put ther plan into action when the USS Constitution (now known as “Old Ironsides”) cuts into Tripoli harbor with all guns blazing. Parker, O’Bannon and Eaton use the ensuing commotion to make good their escape and are soon on board the Constitution and explaining to the ship’s captain their greater plan to do in the thuggish Bashaw. Eaton’s plan in the broadest of terms is to supplant and replace the current Bashaw with the latters’ older brother -– a thoughtful, well-educated scholar currently in exile — and bring an end to piracy in the Mediterranean. O’Bannon, Parker and the commander of the Constitution all sign on and an ambitious expedition is soon underway.
Monahan very skillfully weaves a number of subplots into his work and each is a treat in itself – be it the refined and tragic figure of the Bashaw’s brother Hamet, or the sardonic and fatalistic former French officer now commanding mercenary troops for the current Bashaw. There are also some brutal and wonderfully duplicitous Toureg tribesmen and an oily and thoroughly disagreeable American consular official who play their respective roles to a tee.
Eaton’s monumental expedition is told in wonderful passages that echo with dialogue that at some points is nothing short of poetic. Now, there are many of you out there who have read my commentaries in the past and know that I am not one to give away the ending – especially if I like the work in question. And so the readers of this piece will have to content themselves with the comment that this is a piece worth waiting for and, when it appears, worth paying money to see.
As I sit here in Africa taking a brief respite from my efforts to thwart thugs and terrorists I must say that I am delighted with Mr. Monahan’s efforts and look forward to being in a cool and comfortable theater seat back in the states when this film is released. Good luck to Ridley Scott in doing justice to this story. Yes, my hard corps Marine Corps buddy here says it ain’t exactly accurate to which I reply “So whatr It’s a good story. Have another beer and go back to sleep. Tomorrow’s another long day.” For the less committed we must here echo the quote which appears in Monahan’s work, “Millions for defense but not one penny for tribute.” Frederick J. Chiaventone, an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, is a retired Army officer and Professor Emeritus of International Security Affairs at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. His most recent book, Moon of Bitter Cold, a novel of Red Cloud’s war, was nominated for the Pulitzer. It has also won The Wrangler Award and the premier William Rockhill Nelson Award for literature. We are very proud to have a writer of Mr. Chiaventone’s stature join the FilmJerk staff.Rating: A-