This bloody historical epic, the most ambitious film made by the British
horrormeister Neil Marshall, is too shallow and ham-fisted for its own
good. Set in the outer territories of Ancient Rome, it’s notable for
containing enough limb slicing and head lopping to fill a half dozen
traditional splatter flicks.
2009’s CENTURION was the fourth feature directed by
Neil Marshall, following DOG SOLDIERS (2002), THE DESCENT (2005) and
(2008)--and a definite step down. Nonetheless, it received surprisingly
strong reviews, and somehow got an R rating in the US. Its financial
showing, however, was as expected: it flopped, and since then Marshall
has disappeared into the less auspicious world of episodic television.
If CENTURION is remembered at all today it’s as an
early starring role for the currently-in-demand Michael Fassbender, as
well as Dominic West and Olga Kurylenko, all of whom have since moved on
to bigger and better things.
Northern England, AD 117: at the outer edges of the
Roman Empire the Picts, a tribe of kill-happy maniacs, are disrupting
the march of progress. The studly Quintus Dias survives a raid by the
Picts on a Roman outpost, and joins up with a detachment of soldiers,
led by the heroic General Virilus, into Pictish territory to exterminate
as many of them as they can. Bad idea!
Before long the gang is waylaid by Picts and Virilus is
taken prisoner. Quintus is placed in charge of Virilus’ legion, and
promises to keep the men alive. Easier said than done, as the Picts,
after killing Virilus, set off in pursuit of Quintus and his men. The
pursuers are led by the tongue-less warrior babe Etain, one of the most
bloodthirsty of Picts.
On their way to the nearest Roman garrison, Quintus and
his men happen upon a comely lass who’s been accused of witchcraft by
the Picts and banished. She encourages Quintus and co. to stay the night
in her hut, which they do. A romance nearly blossoms between her and
Quintus, but (due to the fact that much of their relationship ended up
on the cutting room floor) never gets very far.
The following day Quintus and his men arrive at the
garrison. They find it deserted, its inhabitants having been slaughtered
by Picts. Deciding they’re “tired of running,” Quintus and co. elect to
stay in the garrison and fight Etain and her approaching army.
CENTURION is well staged, as we’ve come to expect from
Neil Marshall, but also excessively bombastic and lacking in character
development, with protagonists who all look alike. Outside the alluring
Olga Kurylenko as the warrior babe Etain (as anyone who’s seen DOOMSDAY
well knows, Marshall has a thing for tough chicks), none of the actors
make any impression. Marshall’s ambitions were evidently quite
high-minded, but the film ultimately has all the depth of CONAN THE
BARBARIAN, and none of the narrative heft.
In Marshall’s defense, the 98 minute version of
CENTURION that’s currently in circulation was reportedly shorn of around
30 minutes of footage from its original cut. There was also the fact
that, quite simply, Marshall’s budget just wasn’t substantial enough to
fully flesh out his ambitions (as he admits several times during his DVD
Taken purely as a testosterone-fuelled gore fest
CENTURION delivers, with some extremely inspired kills (my favorite
being the guy running a sword through his own body and that of
the guy he’s fighting). The violence, however, quickly loses its impact,
given that there’s so much of it. A mid-film fight to the death between
Etain and General Virilus, for instance, has none of the shock and upset
it was meant to possess, as it follows so much miscellaneous
Yet Marshall and cinematographer Sam McCurdy succeed in
creating darkly gorgeous visuals that in their odd way compliment the
gory mayhem--which is ultimately all this film has to offer.
Pathe Productions/UK Film Council
Director: Neil Marshall
Producers: Christian Colson, Robert Jones
Screenplay: Neil Marshall
Cinematography: Sam McCurdy
Editing: Chris Gill
Cast: Michael Fassbinder, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke,
Liam Cunningham, David Morrissey, Riz Ahmed, J.J. Field, Dimitri
Leonidas, Imofen Poots, Ulrich Thomsen