The name Neil Marshall is enough to draw me in seeing a film since I was real impressed with “Dog Soldiers” and I liked “The Descent” for its "girls who fight back" overtones; also, despite my disappointments with “Doomsday”, I didn’t hate that one at all. This time, Marshall goes for the swordplay-historical epic theme with his film “CENTURION” that he wrote and directed himself. The film is based on the story of the Ninth Legion during the Roman invasion of Britain where they met heavy resistance by the Pict tribes. This legion was believed to have met a humiliating defeat that Rome had to cover it up. Keep in mind though, that this is not a history lesson but a fictional tale crafted by Marshall. So if you want a violent, bloody and gory action-adventure then you will be right at home with “Centurion” (which is why I went out to see it on a limited release here in San Francisco).
The war between the Picts and the Romans are coming full speed, as the Roman army is pushed to a halt in their invasion of the British territory by the tribe of savages. Governor Agricola (Paul Freeman) is tired of the savages’ guerilla tactics and sends the Ninth Legion led by General Titus Virilus (Dominic West) to join a full-force attack on the Pictish tribes to be guided by a scout who knows the ways of the Pict called Etain (Olga Kurylenko). On the way to the battleground, the legion finds a Roman centurion who had escaped the Pict’s grasp; Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) joins the legion as they are ambushed the day after. Now only a tiny group of men remain, and they must find their way home with the Picts hot on their tail…
It is quite refreshing to see a different type of sword and sandals epic with Neil Marshall on its helm. “Centurion” is not as stylish as “300” and doesn't have the production values of “Gladiator”, but it is just as violent and maybe even bloodier than those two films. The film takes on a serious tone as the film gets to the themes of the hardships of war, its casualties, and how heroes emerge from its ashes because of a need to survive. It becomes an act of survival for our centurions as Marshall’s script does favor the side of the Romans. Yes, he does take a side, but he also doesn’t fail in bringing forth the determination of the opposing side as represented by the Pictish side. Seems like both sides are doing what it can to survive, they both see their side to be in the right and would do whatever is necessary. The Romans were never known for their honorable deeds during wartime, and Marshall touches on some of these themes. This is a film about a war, but it focuses its story on the plight of a handful Roman centurions.
Most swordplay epics begin with the development of its characters, then a grand epic battle serves as its final act. Here, Marshall seems to have learned from Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” beginning with not one but two intense battle sequences between the Roman forces and the Pict tribes. The battles are really brutal, bloody and intense; if your thing is severed heads, mutilated body parts and decapitated limbs, then you will be right at home with the film. It doesn’t shy away from the bloody side of war; it meets it head on before it becomes a chase film. Many would be reminded of the film “Apocalypto” when the film hits its stride in its second act, as it hit’s the points of its characterizations and we get to know our characters, in both the Roman and the Pict side.
The chase lies between a Pictish tracker Etain and the son of a Roman gladiator who has been trained to survive. The viewer will see how each side interacts and how their methods coincide and then oppose the other. Marshall does bring forth some sequences that display bloody violence, it is essentially a chase film that develops the characters through exactly how they deal with their mission. Aside from all the action and blood, we see characters learn how to betray as well as how they learn to honor and choose their alliances. I was impressed with how Marshall managed to bring forth such depth between the lines and the mysterious woman in the woods was quite effective in representing a side in the struggle despite the limited screen time. Arianne (Imogen Poots) is an exile and Marshall leaves it to the imagination just who, what or why she is what she is.
The performances are quite good. Dominic West brought forth a credible feeling of authority even as he met his end. Fassbender manages to carry the film with the support of its cast; mostly indirectly complemented by Bond-girl Olga Kurylenko. Kurylenko is one sexy actress as seen in “Hitman” and “Max Payne”; this time around, she sheds her glamorous image to portray a brutal woman-warrior who is the Pict King’s wrath. The rest of the supporting cast had their short moments to shine and reveal their purpose in the script. The soundtrack of the film generates a serious, brooding tone as it goes forward with the violent mood birthed of war. The colors seem a little muted at times to give an intense and gritty atmosphere.
I guess if the film had a flaw is the fact that the story is a little too simple and may become a little predictable towards the final act. For a film like this, it’s easy to see how it will all play out between the Picts and the Roman survivors; but Marshall does bring forth a surprising final act to add an exclamation point to the story of the Ninth legion. Yes, Neil Marshall isn’t known for his creative storytelling, but I was pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t afraid to send both heroes and villains to their end, even when you pick a side. “Centurion” isn’t a perfect film but it has enough substance for me to give it a highly recommended rating.It is gruesome, really violent and quite grim in the way it depicts the horrors of war. The film takes on a serious tone and a bitter mood, leaving us no reason to smile but we do begin to care and have a sense of sympathy amid all the blood and mayhem.
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Centurion, a Roman empire epic set in Britain in 117 AD, has many of those qualities we see in the best of this genre: A plot line as empty as Gladiator’s; self-polishing abs breast plates for all officers; The Life of Brian’s historical attention to accuracy. It adds blood arcing for some distance into the sky when a lance meets an eyeball. And there are two feral lady barbarians, one blond with what looks like bad teeth (Aeron, played by Axelle Carolyn) and one brunette, whose teeth … more
** out of **** It took "Doomsday" for me to realize just how strange Neil Marshall's "The Descent" looks on his entire filmography. "The Descent" is a great horror film and always will be, but Marshall seems more content with B-Movies than he is with actual masterpieces. Still, I have always expressed interest in his work. I think he is talented at what he does, although little by little, he might be loosing my support. While "Centurion" ultimately fails to be the first "bad" … more
In ancient Scotland, a Roman officer named Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) is liberated from his Pictish captors by the Ninth Legion. The soldiers are in pursuit of the Picts' leader, and Quintus joins their quest. Soon after, the Romans' Pictish guide betrays them, resulting in the slaughter of all but a handful of men. Quintus and his fellow survivors try desperately to reach safety as enemy warriors pick them off one by one.