Plot: A Roman Centurion- Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), who’s stationed in Scotland, is captured by a band of Pictish warriors. He’s rescued by the Roman Ninth legion, led by Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), but when that legion is ambushed by their duplicitous Pict Scout (Olga Kurylenko), Dias once again finds himself trapped behind enemy lines- this time with a small group of the legion’s survivors. In order to make it back to the Roman line, they will have to navigate the treacherous countryside, all the while being stalked by a tribe of Picts who’ve sworn to wipe out them out.
Review: CENTURION is something of a departure for director Neil Marshall- who’s mostly known for his horror flicks like THE DESCENT, and DOG SOLDIERS. CENTURION is something different, in that it’s a hard core action flick set in the time of ancient Rome. Like his other films, it’s a taut, lean piece of work, running about ninety minutes and loaded to the gills with bone-crunching, limb chopping carnage.
In fact, CENTURION, despite its setting, doesn’t have all that much in common with other Roman epics like GLADIATOR or SPARTACUS, but is more like a Walter Hill flick like THE WARRIORS, or SOUTHERN COMFORT (Marshall himself acknowledged both films in the Q&A following the Fantasia Film Fest screening). It’s basically just a tight story about a group of soldiers caught behind enemy lines, and having to fight their way to freedom. The fact that they’re Romans only means that instead of bullets, we get swords and arrows. The dialogue is also modernized- with loads of "fucks"and "shits" instead of thee's and thou's.
As an action flick, CENTURION definitely delivers. The film wastes no time in plunging into carnage, with the film opening with a Pictish assault on a Roman barracks, which only leaves one survivor- Fassbender’s Quintus. After he makes his escape, he takes up with West’s group of soldiers. Within minutes, they’re all slaughtered and West is captured- leaving Quintus to take command of the handful of survivors. The rest of the film is a chase through the countryside, with the action barely letting up for a second.
In the lead, Fassbender makes an excellent action hero. He’s one of those up and coming guys that may well have what it takes to become a mega-star and his upcoming role as Magneto in X-MEN FIRST CLASS could propel him into the big time. CENTURION’s the first time I’ve seen him anchor a film like this (although he did have a small role in 300), and he gives the role more heft than it might have had with someone else in the lead. He got himself into great shape for the role, and he pulls off the numerous sword fights very well- no doubt thanks to some excellent choreography, and sharp editing.
Other than Fassbender, the meatiest role goes to former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, who plays the mute Pict warrior, determined to slaughter our Roman heroes in order to avenge the atrocities the Roman armies have commited on her people- and she’s excellent . The point is made that the Picts aren’t necessarily the bad guys here, as the Romans are the invaders, but after about twenty minutes that idea is pushed into the background, and we’re clearly meant to sympathize with the Romans.
The numerous battle scenes are quite good, and distinctly R-Rated, with lots of heads, and limbs being chopped off in gory fashion. The audience seemed to really go for the action throughout, with lots of whopping and cheering throughout. The only time the film really started to lag was in the last half hour, when an unnecessary romantic subplot is tacked on, with Fassbender falling for an outcast Pict girl played by the beautiful Imogen Poots. I suppose this subplot was added to make the Romans more sympathetic, and to guarantee a happy ending- but it struck me as too much of an afterthought.
However, despite this flaw, I still liked CENTURION. It’s a fun action flick that’s worth checking out, especially if you enjoy these types of brawny action flicks (and really, who doesn’t?). It’s not particularly deep, but it’s entertaining, and a good flick to watch with a few beers, and a few buds.