Review by Jack Foley
SAY what you will about the quality of some of Neil Marshall’s scripts, but the man knows how to make an impressive looking film with limited means.
Thus far, the director’s CV boasts career highs such as The Descent and Dog Soldiers as well as the disappointing low that was Doomsday. All three films, however, looked much bigger than their budget would otherwise suggest.
Centurion, Marshall’s latest, marks a return to somewhere close to the director’s best and, as ever, looks spectacular.
Essentially a chase movie that tips its hat to the Westerns of John Ford, the intensity of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and Marshall’s own back catalogue, it’s a lean, mean slice of macho escapism that does exactly what it says on the label.
Set in Scotland in AD 117, the film stars Michael Fassbender as Roman leader Quintus Dias, who escapes captivity by The Picts only to find himself picked up by the ill-fated Ninth Legion, who are shortly to face their own bloody date with The Picts.
Teaming up with the few survivors of the ensuing Pict ambush – including David Morrissey’s Bothos, Liam Cunningham’s Brick and Noel Clarke’s African Macros – Dias attempts to lead his men back to Roman safety, while Pict leader Gorlacan (Ulrich Thomsen) and mute tracker Etain (Olga Kurylenko) try to prevent them from doing so.
Based largely on the myth surrounding the disappearance of Rome’s Ninth Legion, Marshall’s film is a ferocious and often exciting will they/won’t they battle for survival that has plenty in its favour.
The director’s use of location is often breathtaking (and underlined by the opening tracking shot), while his cast is never less than entertaining and clearly devoted to the cause.
The violence, too, is typically no-nonsense with arms, legs and heads regularly facing the chop… while the banter between the men is often highly amusing in a crass, blokey kind of way.
There are flaws, of course. Actors of Fassbender’s and Cunningham’s quality probably deserve much better in terms of characterisation than Marshall affords them, while The Wire‘s Dominic West is criminally wasted as an ill-fated commanding officer.
A final twist also fails to convince and ends the film on a slightly underwhelming note.
But Marshall also deserves credit for tossing in plenty of modern day resonance with army occupations, and for refusing to paint either the Romans or The Picts as wholly good or evil.
He also deserves praise for giving both Kurylenko and Imogen Poots plenty to do in what could essentially have become a man’s film.
Centurion must therefore rate as another impressive achievement from Marshall, which hits far more than it misses.
Running time: 97mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August 16, 2010
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Neil Marshall interview
- Centurion Photo Gallery