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Centurion (2010) ***

August 27, 2010



written by: Neil Marshall

produced by: Christian Colson & Robert Jones
directed by: Neil Marshall 
rated R (for sequences of strong bloody violence, grisly images and language)
97 min.
U.S. release dates: July 30, 2010 (VoD, iTunes, Amazon, Xbox Marketplace and the PlayStation Network) August 27, 2010 (theatrical)
After seeing writer/director Neil Marshall’s last three films, I can attest without hesitation that I haven’t seen a Neil Marshall film that I didn’t like. 2008’s “Doomsday” was a raucous homage to several apocalyptic classics, 2006’s “The Descent”, a superb claustrophobic nightmare that earned Marshall the most recognition, and his feature debut, 2002’s “Dog Soldiers” was an unforgettable entry into the horror genre. All of these films are heavy on suspense and fast-action, displaying stunning visuals and just enough characterization to hook you in. The same signature elements converge in his latest release, “Centurion”, an action thriller set during the Roman conquest of Europe during the 2nd century.

Marshall fashions an engaging fictional tale out of  historical myth, covering a period of history that has received scarce documentation. We’re introduced to a bound and bloodied man, shirtless and barefoot, desperately running in a snowswept landscape. This is Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) a centurion in the Roman army, who has escaped enemy capture. He has evaded (for now) the barbaric Picts, descendants of Scotts, who are savagely defending their Northern Britain home from the grasp of the Roman Empire. His escape is short-lived though, as he finds himself back in the frenzied fray when he is sent to join General Titus (Dominic West), who  is ordered to trek back into Pict territory. Leading a Roman army, their mission is to find and kill Pict leader Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen), putting a stop to the decimation of Roman outposts in the area.
Their army marches into a Pict ambush, resulting in the slaughter of all but a few survivors that will eventually be known as the Ninth Legion. Dias and Titus are joined by Bothos (David Morrisey), Ubriculius (Liam Cunningham) and four other soldiers, becoming a band of brothers who fight for their lives in harsh environments. They are relentlessly pursued by a merciless group of Pict tracers, led by the mysterious Etain (Olga Kurylenko) a ferociously furious mute warrior bent on revenge. Traveling mostly on foot and navigating through challenging terrain, Dias has one goal: to keep these men alive and lead them back to safety. 
“Centurion” is an ambitious film that is Marshall’s most expansive film yet in both its scope and atmosphere. There’s rarely a moment where you won’t see a character’s breath escape from their adrenalized or fatigued bodies amid the vast mountains, dense forests, and ice-cold streams. Longtime cinematographer, Sam McCurdy joins Marshall once again, slashing strokes of bludgeoning scarlet across blue and green hues. Not only is it a gorgeous film to take in, this is also Marshall’s most accessible film yet, giving fans of sword and sandal tales something to gnash at.  
The overall storyline is unique in that it gives us a period in time seldom covered, but the main theme is one of survival. It’s a theme Marshall has employed in all his films in various genres, usually involving a group of people trying to stay alive in impossible situations, often making difficult decisions. I find myself inherently attracted to films where men and women are pushed to the limit and forced to take dramatic steps to stay alive. Marshall clearly enjoys this too and he also has an affinity for the group dynamic approach. Just like in his previous films, “Centurion” wastes no time thinning out this dynamic, leaving us with one exhausted character.
While the film could have been clearer in regards to who is who with a dash of additional characterization, it’s hard to complain when Marshall’s strengths are so over-powering. His battlefield staging is impressive, especially when the Romans are ambushed by rolling fireballs that come barreling out of the craggy woods. What follows is a bloody-knuckled ballet of axes, swords and head-cracking. Marshall is less concerned about exploiting violence as he is determined to depict what an ax to the head or a decapitation would really look like. His actors are assuredly put through a gauntlet of training and rigorous physical challenges.  
Speaking of his actors, here is yet another Marshall film where the cast is excellently selected. As the central character and narrator, Fassbinder confidently embodies the leading man, bound for A-list actor status. Since catching my attention in “Inglorious Basterds”, he has clearly been the most charismatic presence in his films, regardless if those films are bad (“Jonah Hex”). You’ll never find a wussy woman in his films (Marshall even employs his wife to play a savage Pict) either and here Kurylenko as the savage she-wolf, pursuing her prey with every sweaty pore, is a formidable yet slightly tragic freak. Marshall lets us catch our breath when he introduces us to Arianne (Imogen Poots), an exiled Pict witch who aids our wounded soldiers. At first, she conveys a coldness but eventually Poots injects a needed safe haven for the harrowing situations these soldiers endure.  It’s an overall successful gathering of actors, who have little time for melodrama. 
“Centurion” is at its best when Marshall maintains the steady savagery that carries us into the gory finale. If you liked “Braveheart”, “Gladiator”, “300” and “King Arthur”, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get on your horse and make your way to the theater for this one. Marshall doesn’t waste any time getting bogged down by any political or religious subplots, nor does he need to deal with taxation or tariffs, this is action and adventure reminiscent of those old Weekend Matinees. It’s Marshall’s devotion to the genres he commits which make him a filmmaker I will continue to watch.








5 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    August 27, 2010 1:17 pm

    I would never lump “King Arthur” in with the other three excellent films you mentioned but I’ll probably give this a shot. I never have seen any of his previous films since I generally avoid horror movies and Doomsday looked stupid from the trailer. I might give Doomsday a shot based on your review here though. If I happen to like it, I’ll give this a shot when it hits on DVD.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      August 27, 2010 4:03 pm

      I lumped it in solely cuz both have similiar color palettes and gritty she-chicks! Dunno if you’d like “Doomsday” or “The Descent” then. I know how cynical you are.

  2. windi permalink
    August 30, 2010 9:14 pm

    sounds like a great movie. Hadn’t heard of it at all, but I love these kinds of movies! 🙂


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