In AD 117, the Roman Empire stretches from Egypt to Spain, and East as far as the Black Sea. But in northern Britain, the relentless onslaught of conquest has ground to a halt in the face of the guerrilla tactics of an elusive enemy: the savage and terrifying Picts. Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman fort, marches north with General Virilus' (Dominic West) legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the earth and destroy their leader Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). But when the legion is ambushed on unfamiliar ground, and Virilus taken captive, Quintus faces a desperate struggle to keep his small platoon alive behind enemy lines. Enduring the harsh terrain and evading their remorseless Pict pursuers led by revenge-hungry Pict Warrior Etain (Olga Kurylenko), the band of soldiers race to rescue their General and to reach the safety of the Roman frontier.
Review by: Andrew L. Urban:
The occupying Romans of Britain in the second century are the heroes of this story, which is the only surprise of the film. The clash between the indigenous Picts and the imperial army of Rome is depicted as a fight between the civilisation of the Roman Empire and the brutish, primitive ways of the fur-clad Pict guerrilla fighters. But if you drain these essentially politically incorrect overtones out of the film, you are left with a period action drama where blood and guts are freely and frequently spilled.
Indeed, prosthetics designer Paul Hyett was "thrilled" to be on this gig. "It seemed like in every other scene there was something for me." He is quoted (in the notes to the film). "Slashed throats, arm chops, decapitations, head slicings, arrows in necks, axes in necks, people being burnt and squashed, heads being crushed." It is a story of war, of course, when swords and spears, arrows and huge blunt instruments were the weapons to hand.
But these nasty scenes are set off by some breathtakingly beautiful scenes in the wintry Scottish mountains, and a few tender moments . . . very few.
Michael Fassbender has less to work with here than he did in the extraordinary biopic, Hunger, but he's ably supported by Dominic West as the Roman General, Liam Cunningham as his brave brother in arms and the fine Danish actor, Ulrich Thomsen as the Pict leader Gorlacon.
It's a chase movie at heart, as the vengeful Picts hunt the small band of surviving Roman soldiers. Olga Kurylenko gets to look exotic as the Pict warrior woman, Etain, who is driven by revenge for the nasty death of her family at the hands of the Romans; she had to watch her mother being blinded and raped as a kid, before she herself was raped and her tongue cut out. There, that should make her mad as hell.
There are other derivative elements, but Neil Marshall does his best to distract us with the bloody fighting and gorgeous landscape. The characters are little more than pawns being moved around the set, speaking predictable lines and being predictably betrayed as the few remaining Roman soldiers limp towards a friendly fort. It's a physically demanding film, even for the audience.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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CENTURION, THE (M)
CAST: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Ulrich Thomsen, Noel Clarke, David Morrissey, Liam Cunningham, JJ Feild, Axelle Carolyn, Riz Ahmed, Imogen Poots
PRODUCER: Christian Colson, Robert Jones
DIRECTOR: Neil Marshall
SCRIPT: Neil Marshall
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sam McCurdy
EDITOR: Chris Gill
MUSIC: Ilan Eshkeri
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Simon Bowles
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 29, 2010