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Awesome: 5.88%
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2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"A 2nd-century 'Expendables' with better action and more expending."
4 stars

I suspect that Neil Marshall will never break through to doing big Hollywood movies, assuming that holds any interest for him, despite just how good he is at every aspect of the job. The man is just too fond of his blood and guts to go to the world where producers are always looking for a PG-13, and he's not content to stick to horror movies, where that's a niche one can settle into. That's why his new movie, "Centurion", is premiering in boutique theaters in the United States alongside a video on demand run despite being a big, brawny action/adventure.

We start with Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a Roman officer (the Centurion of the title) guarding the northern frontier in England in 117 AD. The Picts, led by Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) attack his fort and he is captured. Like a good prisoner, he escapes, not knowing that Governor Julius Agricola (Paul Freeman) is dispatching the Ninth Legion, commanded by General Titus Flarvius Virilus (Dominic West) and guided by mute tracker Etain (Olga Kurylenko), to attack Gorlacon's stronghold. Though they meet up, a brutal Pict attack has Titus now captured and the Legion more than decimated. The survivors mount a rescue operation, but even after getting in and out of the village, it's going to be a race to the border.

Centurion brings the action from the very start, and it is frequently thrilling, bloody mayhem. It is a time of swords, axes, and spears which connect with a distinct crunch and spray red all over the place, and Marshall is quite creative in how he kills and maims his characters. There are hits that will make men wince, others that are kind of viciously funny, and still others that serve to announce just how rugged the Picts and Romans are even in their last moments. Marshall and his crew do a good job of getting this on-screen, seldom cutting away from a particularly nasty death or shaking the camera too much. While it's not quite an hour and a half of wall-to-wall action, it's intense throughout, and even the moments between fights are unabashedly muscular.

It also gives us plenty of testosterone-dripping performances to go with it: Dominic West is just glorious as Titus, playing the plain-spoken general who prefers the company of his troops to other brass for all it's worth (he earns the name "Virilus"); it's almost difficult to see other characters when he's on the screen. Fassbender wisely doesn't try to compete with him in that contest, instead going the route of quiet ability; he's always going to be the guy who sees what the Picts are up to - a great fighter but also a sharp military mind. The men are a fine group, too - Liam Cunningham gives grunting comic relief as the old soldier ready to retire to Tuscany, Noel Clarke is keen as the bitter member of the party, and there's also David Morrissey, Dimitri Leonidas, and Riz Ahmed filling out a memorable group.

Being a movie by the maker of Doomsday and especially The Descent, there are plenty of opportunities for the ladies to kick some ass, as well. Actions mostly have to speak louder than words; Olga Kurylenko's character is established as mute from the outset; she mostly communicates her almost animalistic personality through body language, grunts, and screams. Similarly, I'm not sure whether Axelle Carolyn (Marshall's wife, though more than earning her keep) has any lines of her own, but she certainly makes an impression as the most sadistic of the Pict warriors. The lovely Imogen Poots does well in the more traditionally feminine role of an exiled "witch" with no allegiance to either Romans or Picts.

It's interesting that the invading Romans are positioned as the heroes in this British-made epic; I suspect it's as much do to language as anything (the Romans' dialogue is presented to us in English rather than Latin or proto-Italian, while the Picts speak subtitled Gaelic, which is probably as close as their lost language can be approximated). Of course, it doesn't hurt that Marshall and his crew make things look appealing; although there's grimy period authenticity, there's also shiny armor, cool tattoos, as well as sets and vistas that seem as big as he needs them to be. The action may be bone-crunching, but the movie is highly polished.

"Centurion" is polished enough that it's a real shame that its American bookings will be limited, it's a good-looking widescreen action movie that only gets better by having a whole crowd wincing in sympathetic pain when someone takes a particularly nasty hit. The closest thing this has to a fault is a somewhat pat ending, but given that "Centurion"'s Lost Legion is a genuine historical mystery, it's at least a fitting one.

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originally posted: 09/01/10 00:47:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/08/13 Monday Morning Loved the Roman soldier getting a flaming arrow in the head. TOPS! 4 stars
7/10/11 gc A really good war movie 4 stars
5/15/11 Monday Morning Haven't even watched it yet and I love it. Will report back... 5 stars
2/12/11 Meeper high quality Romans Vs Highlanders film with solid acting, great scenery 4 stars
8/28/10 Mitch Dolan this movie caught me by surprise! i loved it. 4 stars
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  27-Aug-2010 (R)
  DVD: 02-Nov-2010


  DVD: 02-Nov-2010

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