Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Bloody Violence, Grisly Images and Language
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Dominic West, Liam Cunningham, David Morrissey, JJ Feild, Ulrich Thomsen, Noel Clarke, Imogen Poots
It really is quite unfair how many good films from across the pond get a shitty release in the states. I wish I could say that I went opening night to a multiplex and saw CENTURION on a massively sized screen with a crowd of enthusiastic filmgoers. Unfortunately, this film got a very limited theatrical run and was a VOD offering with little fanfare. Given that Neil Marshall’s DOOMSDAY wasn’t hot among the masses, it makes sense that CENTURION got regulated to a smaller release. This is a shame, because CENTURION is a no holds-barred, kick-ass adventure. The film works wondrously well in spite a couple of pacing problems. Marshall has never been one to skimp on the gratuitous violence. This benefited a dark horror film in THE DESCENT and elevated the goofy fun factor of DOOMSDAY, but in CENTURION things has a more serious tone and the violence echoes sheer brutality of the story being told.
Based on the legend of the Roman Ninth Legion, CENTURION is primarily about the struggle of a few Roman soldiers trying to stay alive deep in enemy territory as they try to make it back to their base alive. The first twenty minutes cut between Roman soldier Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) and Roman general Titus Virilus (Dominic West). Quintus has been captured by the vicious Picts and Titus is being assigned to entirely wipe out the Picts. The two Roman soldiers soon meet and after an ambush, the handful of survivors are left with some difficult decisions that will ultimately make or break their survival. It certainly makes matters more dangerous that a band of vicious Pict warriors are hunting the remaining group led by a character that can only be described as one mean bitch. Much chaos, suspense, and bloodshed ensues as the band of Roman soldiers face off against their enemies and the harsh terrain.
There was clearly a budget behind CENTURION. The story plays out on an epic scale. There are plenty of period pieces that feel almost stagey in their sets and costumes. In this film, I bought everything that I saw as a mostly authentic piece of history. It helps that most of the story is set in a vast wilderness that is bleak to say the least. I can’t think of a single moment where I saw a sun in the entire course of the movie. It’s an atmospheric piece of work that proudly states on the poster “History is written in blood.” As far as that blood goes, the film is unabashedly brutal. Severed limbs, decapitated heads, and a whole lot of red bodily fluid flies freely in the battle scenes. A few of these moments (particularly in the first half) show off some iffy blood that looked very CGI and there is one key moment that was ripped off from 300. Other than these hiccups, the film is a bloody blast of action, violence, and gore.
One surprising element that made CENTURION even more gripping was that I actually cared about most of these characters. The cast consists of some fine actors. Michael Fassbender headlines as Quintus and though he’s proven himself a superb actor by taking on many different types of characters, he’s an absolute badass here. The secondary character mainly comes in David Morrissey (known for his recent work as The Governor in THE WALKING DEAD) and I appreciated that this older Roman soldier was given some depth. British familiars Noel Clarke and Dominic West are welcome additions to the highly capable cast. One moment was clearly included for some exposition and didn’t come off as cheap in the slightest. In fact, this scene (you’ll know it when you see it) dealt with fleshing out these characters very well. The character development makes it all the more devastating when someone bites it in a painful manner.
As far as baddies go, the Picts aren’t given much of a personality. This is all with one exception: French actress Olga Kurylenko. She is the aforementioned mean bitch and comes off as the ultimate violent villainess. Her character of the main Pict tracker never speaks a word, but just oozes intimidation. The goriest scenes come courtesy of her.
The pacing itself takes a little while to gain momentum. The first 20 minutes jumping back and forth from Fassbender and West wander aimlessly. The same issue can also be attributed to the final 20 minutes. The bloody climax is well worth the wait, but there are a series of rushed plot points that follow afterwards. I was interested in what was happening, but not necessarily how quickly Neil Marshall was throwing them out. If less time had been dedicated to the opening and moved instead to the closing, then CENTURION would have been a much stronger film.
Neil Marshall delivers yet again with CENTURION. This film is unlike his horror flicks and the one campy action sci-fi movie that the man has done before. It’s a (mostly) fast-paced adventure revolving around an ancient legend and dripping with layers of gore. Also props to Marshall for directing excellent coherent fight scenes that didn’t rely on any shaky cam bullshit that so many others rely on. It’s a good time for action fans, gorehounds and history buffs!