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rochefort [Film Festival 03.16.10] movie review action thriller drama adventure

Year: 2010
Directors: Neil Marshall
Writers: Neil Marshall
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 7 out of 10

In "Centurion", the latest from director Neil Marshall, the year is A.D. 117. Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) is the commanding officer at one of a handful of Roman garrisons established throughout Northern Britain in an effort to subdue and conquer the Picts, who have been successfully repelling the Romans through a prolonged campaign of guerilla warfare. After a sneak attack which leaves Dias the only survivor, he's rescued by the famed Ninth Legion, led by General Virilius (Dominic West), who has been ordered by the Roman high command to end the resistance by any means necessary, and been given a mute Pict tracker guide (Olga Kurylenko) to lead them to Gorlacon, the Pict king, and to supposed victory. The Ninth is soon ambushed, and within minutes the Picts have slaughtered 5,000 of Rome's finest soldiers. After a botched attempt to retrieve Virilius from the Pict stronghold, Dias and the six only other survivors soon find themselves hunted by a tracking party through the cold and brutal British countryside.

There's a lot of geek love for director Marshall, and it's easy to see why. "Dog Soldiers" and "The Descent" are excellent B movies instilled with a sense of fun and innovation (and in "Descent"'s case, genuine scares) that calls to mind the early career of John Carpenter, a genre icon to whom Marshall is frequently compared. "Doomsday" was admittedly a cluttered and indulgent misstep, but in my opinion we'd probably have a much different opinion of that one if Marshall had simply eliminated one or two of the script's many tangential subplots (my vote would be to lose the medieval thing). And in all cases Marshall demonstrates a keen and fresh eye for action scenes; he's one of the few directors who can effectively blend a quick-cutting style with clean and clear frame composition, and is known for personally handling a lot of the work that would typically go to a second unit. The ambush of the Ninth is a prime example, the scene cutting from one bloody battle shot to the next with a rhythm that is almost march-like. It's a more subtle than flashy approach, but nonetheless proves that there are still ways to breathe new life into hack-and-slash fight choreography. So it's satisfying to note that "Centurion", while not a perfect film or even his best, seems to confirm that "Doomsday" was indeed just a blip on what is turning out to be an otherwise consistent and promising body of work.

One of the first things I couldn't help but notice here is the old-school approach to just about everything. There's no obvious CGI on display, not even to enhance the super-gory kills, and the location cinematography makes excellent use of the English and Scottish countryside. The costumes and makeup design are nothing short of eye-popping, especially for the Picts. Marshall's a Scotsman, after all, and knows his woad; the pagan punk face-paint and "Road Warrior"-esque ensembles are richly intricate and, by all accounts, as historically accurate as possible. The cast is uniformly solid too, Fassbender in particular further proving why he's increasingly in demand as a leading man, as the guy can do pretty much anything. West and Liam Cunningham also turn in fine work in supporting roles, but the real treat is Kurylenko. I'm admittedly biased since I think she's one of the hottest women on multiple planets, but here she's playing a woman from a culture that had an equal-opportunity philosophy about who could and couldn't go to battle. If you could swing a sword, you were in, and both Kurylenko and Axelle Carolyn (as a bloodthirsty Pict archer) sell their roles as warriors with absolute conviction, and are often more believably vicious than their male counterparts.

If there's a downside to the proceedings, it's a forgivable one. "Centurion" will inevitably be compared to other recent sword-and-sandals movies like "Gladiator" or "300", but was made for a fraction of either of those films' budgets. And while it avoids the narrative bloat of "Gladiator" and the stylistic overkill of "300", it also whets the appetite enough that you can't help but wonder what Marshall would have done with a more epic-sized pile of production money. The final twenty minutes or so seem a bit rushed, and don't really provide the emotional or kinetic payoff that we've been promised, and again I think this is due to budget limits, since everybody involved seems plenty capable. Thankfully, Marshall is astute enough to know where to put the gold. All of the key battle scenes are top-notch, each full of at least a couple of moments that bring the hurt with absolute authority. Lean and burly, "Centurion" is an encouraging step forward from a director who seems primed to be one of our best.

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agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

"Lean and burly" is a great way to describe Marshaall's style. This movie looks great.


Lotus Eater (12 years ago) Reply

I wouldn't describe the A+ film "dog soldiers" as a B movie. It has howling style werewolves big lean, mean, hairy, & fanged in it.

In fact, I want more...bring on the red meat.


Michael Bartlett (12 years ago) Reply

I can't wait for this one. Sounds very promising.

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