Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke, Liam Cunningham, Ulrich Thomsen, David Morrissey, JJ Feild, Dimitri Leonidas, Imogen Poots
MPAA Rating: (for sequence of strong bloody violence, grisly images and language)
Running Time: 1:37
Release Date: 8/27/10
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 26, 2010
The old clichés regarding inaccuracies in movies set in antiquity are present in Centurion. The cast is full of actors with perfect, gleaming white teeth. The characters speak in British accents. They talk with an anachronistic flair for modern idioms (primarily four-letter words this time around).
These are easy things to concentrate upon, especially if what those characters with nice teeth and out-of-place brogues are doing is too familiar, too bland, too—if you'll permit the word—boring.
In theory, the premise of Centurion is all three of those things. The film really amounts to nothing more than an extended chase sequence, but in practice, writer/director Neil Marshall is content to simply push one point of his tale of an expanding Roman Empire: It was a violent, bloody, brutal, inhospitable time in human history.
The man with the solid Roman name Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), who in more civilized society was a gladiator like his father before him, is a soldier in the Roman army in 117 A.D. The empire is attempting to conquer the entirety of Britain but has hit a stall in the form of the Picts, the collected tribes living in the northern part of the island.
Quintis is captured by the Picts after a raid on the outpost he is stationed at—spared solely because he can speak the language—and escapes from the camp of the Picts' king Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). He is rescued by the Ninth Legion, led by General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), a Roman name if there ever was one.
After an ambush, aided by the Pict double agent in the legion's midst Etain (Olga Kurylenko), the unit is decimated. Quintis and the survivors decide to free their captured general and flee back south, where the safety of Roman rule lies. Etain, a master tracker, is on their heels.
Quintis, who humbly takes over the role of leader after the general's capture, and his men have to contest with Etain and her crew of hunters—steadfast on achieving "blood vengeance" and not stopping until they or their prey are dead—the naturally rough and unfamiliar terrain, the weather that accompanies it, and the competitive spirit of survival in their own ranks. Faced with bitter cold and a sickly comrade, the discussion quickly turns to leaving behind the decelerating force to fend for himself and save the rest. The debate continues on a more personal level when the two—the man who's slowing the rest down and the one who wants to leave him to die—are separated from the pack and chased by wolves.
There's something far more insidious in the result of that pursuit than in Etain's. If Marshall has a thematic intention beyond the harshness of the times, it is in a basic portrayal of the cyclical nature of revenge. Etain is forged by her childhood, during which her father was murdered, her mother was raped and murdered, and she was raped and her tongue cut out by Roman soldiers. Now she kills Roman soldiers, whose cohorts seek revenge.
Marshall does not shy away from the results of that blood lust realized with the cutting, puncturing, slicing, and crushing weapons of the era. Limbs are cleaved (There's an especially unsettling beheading), torsos and skulls are pierced, and great balls of fire roll toward unsuspecting victims with expected results. Marshall edits the battle in a frenzy—the ambush on the Ninth that sets the plot in motion is particularly tumultuous from a rhythmic standpoint—yet individual beats in the fighting are clear. It is not, at least in sequences like this, about strategy or having a specific sense of who is where and fighting whom. That sequence and the initial assault on Quintis' fortification at the beginning are about frantic confusion. Later, as that fades and Quintis and the survivors decide they must outsmart rather than outrun their enemy, the pace of combat slows. It's particularly noticeable when the general fights Etain for an up-close-and-personal chance at freedom and a last stand at an abandoned fort.
My appreciation for Centurion is fairly simplistic (but, then again, so is the film itself) and amounts to little more than its success as a bloodbath with an appropriately cynical outlook and a cornucopia of brutality displayed with skill. The main point, of course, is that the film succeeds in its limited scope.
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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