Friday, August 27, 2010

Centurion Review

Directed by NEIL MARSHALL
Starring MICHAEL FASSBENDER, DOMINIC WEST, and JJ FEILD

I liked this movie.  Neil Marshall continues to impress me as a director.  I liked his second film, which was the first AND THE ONLY, half-way decent TV-movie ever to debut on the SyFy channel, Dog Soldiers.  That was in 2002.  The SyFy channel has since sunk to the depths of movie-hades.  It's a running joke now.  How bad can we make this movie and how many bad actors can we get?  SyFy thinks it's funny.  The rest of us think it's sophomoric. 

But I digress, Neil Marshall came to mainstream attention with The Descent, which is one of the best horror movies in the last 20 years.  Like other Neil Marshall movies, he takes a crazy concept and makes it believable.  Who would have thought he could make a first-rate horror film about chicks with pick axes fighting dangerous pre-historic creatures in dark, damp caves?  Marshall doesn't disappoint in Centurion either.  Like most Neil Marshall films he's heavy on the blood and guts.  The squeamish should beware.

Plot
:  Centurion is set in 117 A.D. in Roman Britain and things are not going well for the Romans.  In fact the Romans are having their butts handed to them by the Picts, who are the native inhabitants of the Scottish highlands.  The film starts as Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender, who has quickly become one of my favorite actors) escapes the Picts as the last survivor of a Pict raid on the northern most Roman outpost. 

Dominic West as Virilus in full garb
Before retreating behind Hadrain's wall, Julius Agricola (well played by Paul Freeman), the desperate and politically ambitious Roman governor of Brittainia, concocts one last plan.  Agricola dispatches the legendary ninth legion under General Titus Flavius Virilus (wonderfully played by Dominic West of the Wire) to once and for all wipe them out.  Getting back to his costume drama roots, Dominic does a good job playing the Roman general.  To aid in his quest, Agricola gives Flavius a mute female Pict scout, named Etain (Olga Kurylenko).  It goes without saying that being a captive woman during Roman times was...difficult.  Etain was no doubt brutalized by the Romans and wears her anger on her face.  Olga does a good job with this role, as she plays a ruthless mute and therefore has no dialogue.

As the legion marches to meet the Picts in battle, they encounter Dias, who has escaped and is being viciously pursued by three Picts.  When Dias sees the ninth legion, he's one lucky fellow--not so for the three Picts.  After Dias is saved, Flavius learns what he can of Dias's encounter with the Picts and he makes Dias (whose father was a famous gladiator) one of his centurions.  The Romans continue their march to meet the Picts and you can imagine what transpires from there.  The Pict hits the fan.  As most of us know from history, the ninth legion was never seen or heard from again.  The action scenes are good, but this is where the film is rather weak.  The characters, save a few, were not well-developed.  So you don't really care about who lives and who dies.  It's at this point that the film descends into an ancient "Behind Enemy Lines," thankfully without Owen Wilson.  

THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS

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