Monday, August 30, 2010


Centurion - Written and directed by Neil Marshall, starring Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, and Dominic West - Rated R

Like the poster promises, there is definitely blood...but little else.

It seems like it's been awhile since a nice, bloody sword and sandals movie came out, so I decided to check out Centurion this past weekend. It opened in a few theatres in the bigger markets, but I was able to check it out via Amazon On Demand, where it is available for rent. I'm not necessarily a major fan of the genre, though I do enjoy some brutal Roman vs. Barbarian action from time to time. It also helps that the film stars Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, and Dominic West. It helps even more that the film is directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday).

Centurion takes place in the second century A.D. The Roman Ninth Legion is busy with a Pict rebellion, and things aren't going so well. I want to explain further, but I feel like it might spoil it a bit if I do. So be aware, the rest of the paragraph may contain slight SPOILERS. The movie really turns into a survival film after the first act. Michael Fassbender plays Quintus, one of very few survivors left after a fairly entertaining Pict ambush. Quintus and the others spend the majority of the movie on the run, but they do stop here and there to engage in brutality.

If all you're looking for is action, then Centurion should please you. If you're looking for interesting characters and a compelling story, you may end up a bit on the disappointed side, as I was. But let's stick with the action for now. This film definitely brings the blood and the dismembered body parts. Neil Marshall is obviously a fan of spraying blood and I applaud him for that. The action itself, though, seems a bit weak at times. Battles are not staged so much as they are thrown together. You don't see any elaborate battle movements or anything, and that's fine, I suppose, but it would be nice to see two warriors actually have a fight of sorts. Instead, the battles are quick cuts of hardcore violence. No fighting skills are shown, just a slash of a sword and a fountain of blood...maybe a severed limb. I like blood and all, but it would be better if the blood served more as a payoff for a well choreographed battle and less a signifier that action was taking place.

But I didn’t watch this just for blood. I have become quite the fan of Michael Fassbender after his appearance in Inglourious Basterds and his very impressive turn in Hunger. His appearance here led me to believe that this might be a film with an interesting character in it. Unfortunately, it appears that he took the role so he could play soldier, which isn’t to say that his performance is off, it’s just that I didn’t care about his character at all. I was much more interested in Dominic West as General Virilus, though the role was woefully secondary. Olga Kurylenko did what she could as a speechless female warrior and her character’s story was actually much more interesting than the “hero’s” story.

I put “hero” in quotations because this is one of those films that doesn’t really make the case for either side to be heroic. Maybe that’s the point of the film, that everyone is justified in their call to war. But that didn’t really work for me since the Romans were speaking English and received the majority of the screen time while the Picts spoke through subtitles and had very few non-combat/torture scenes. It doesn’t help that the Roman Empire is typically portrayed (and rightfully so for the most part) as an oppressive power. Couple that aspect with the dull main character and I had almost no interest in the outcome of this film.

The other disappointing aspect of Centurion was that it was written and directed by Neil Marshall, a director I have been expecting great things from but who seems to be going backwards. I enjoyed Dog Soldiers and thought that The Descent was great. But Doomsday was uneven at best and now Centurion proves to be his weakest effort yet. I still have hope left for Marshall, but he needs to break out of his funk soon. The guy can still shoot a film with skill. If he could just slow down the action editing and maybe take on a writing partner I think he could produce some very entertaining fare.

I truly wish I could recommend Centurion, but unless you just really need a blood fix, you’re better off watching Gladiator again. I guess it’s worth a look when it comes out on DVD/Blu-ray, when it will be cheaper than the On Demand version I watched. There are bits and pieces of entertainment in this film, it’s just a disappointment overall.

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