Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, David Morrissey, Liam Cunningham, Imogen Poots, JJ Felid, Noel Clarke, Riz Ahmed, Ulrich Thomsen and Olga Kurylenko
Plot: The legendary Ninth Legion are ambushed and their General (West) captured by Picts. The few survivors find themselves running for their lives, but one of them, Quintus, wants to try and save the General.
When Centurion came out, I was actually quite excited. I hadn’t seen a good ‘swords and shield’ movie in quite some time. It is one of the genres I quite like, because they don’t get made as much as I would like them to. I am that weird kid who thought King Arthur was a pretty good movie. Centurion leaves a lot to be desired, but in being one of the few Roman actions in a long while, it manages to earn its place in my DVD collection.
The difference between this movie and a lot of other historical actions is that the plot of this genre is often quite long. King Arthur couldn’t help but dissect the myth surrounding the Knights of the Round Table. Black Death had a little too much going on in the background. The Romans have always been interesting characters for films, because they are both the heroes and the villains simultaneously. How can you not dissect that element? However, while occasionally embracing a larger narrative, Centurion is a movie stripped down to basics, which becomes the one factor that will divide viewers. Yes, I do agree that there is a sense that this movie doesn’t feel like an essential watch; there are far better movies out there to spend your time on. Yet at the same time, there is something appealing about settling into a movie about Romans slashing at Scottish tribal warriors, without needing to throw yourself into a intricate story. Centurion is basically about the true story of the Ninth Legion, getting cocky, and letting themselves get overrun by the local Picts (who are, in simple terms, Scottish Celts). A few survive and end up needing to get back to Hadrian’s Wall. However, the Picts have been bullied by the Romans long enough and decide to hunt them down. The rest of the movie evolves into a mad dash for survival, becoming a really enjoyable action flick.
Critics have rightly analysed this as Centurion’s biggest flaw. Yes, spending half a movie with battered Romans fleeing for their life, almost as if they are starring in a horror movie than an action, is quite entertaining, but because Neil Marshall keeps the pace almost always at maximum speed, there is little time to actually reflect on what is going on. Only a few characters actually matter, while the rest are dead weight. I didn’t notice this the first time, because I appreciated the supporting cast as minor British actors that I was happy to see in movies like this. Noel Clarke has pulled himself into the big movies, so of course I was going to like the character. However, as an afterthought, American viewers not familiar with these small-time actors might not get the same kick out of it, and just feel that there is a major lack of development going on. When characters die, it doesn’t hit home, almost like a poor teen horror. On the other hand, maybe now this will change as we know Liam Cunningham from Game of Thrones and David Morrissey from the Walking Dead.
It does help that the acting is excellent. This is the film I lost my Fassbender virginity to (not literally; we’ve all seen his penis in Shame. I would still be unable to walk), so I was amazed by the performance. It is restrained Fassbender, as he is essentially playing an action hero, but it definitely helps to have someone with Fassbender’s weight, carrying the film. He also has this Britishness about him, that reflects the gorgeous Scottish scenery. Dominic West is also great as the General, imprisoned, capturing everything we want from a grizzled Roman warrior. He gets some of the best lines and proves that he is capable of being more action-ready, despite 300 leaving him on the side-lines. However, the best actor to watch for me was Olga Kurylenko. The actress has always been bogged down with terrible roles. Oblivion saw her as the pandering girlfriend figure and in Hitman, she was featured as little more than something naked to look at. Here, she is totally badass and awesome. She plays the mute Pict warrior, hunting them down. In a cast full of muscular men, it is quite exciting to have a female running rings around the lot of them. She is a fantastic villain and this is Kurylenko’s most exciting character to date.
Final Verdict: Sure, Centurion is little more than a glorified chase movie, but is there really anything wrong with that?