“Fight or die.”
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko
Synopsis: A splinter group of Roman soldiers fight for their lives behind enemy lines after their legion is decimated in a devastating guerrilla attack.
Scottish barbarians, eh? They’re a persistent bunch; quick to anger and slow to forget, as the beleaguered Roman Ninth Legion, led by a tough, brawling General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West) discover to their cost. State of the art armour and sophisticated defence tactics are no match, it appears, for flaming haystacks rolled down a ravine. It’s an attack that spells the beginning of another bad day for our hero, Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender),who has only just escaped the clutches of a brutal Pict tribe. Now he, and a handful of fellow survivors of the Pictish onslaught, must find their way home as the Picts, led by the feral Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a treacherous mute Xena look-alike who led the Legion into the ambush, set about picking them off one by one.
Centurion is essentially one long chase movie ,with little attention paid to developing the characters of either those being chased or those doing the chasing. In fact, it’s so difficult to tell most of the characters apart that they might as well have just labelled our plucky band of survivors Roman Soldier 1, Roman Soldier 2, etc instead of giving them names like Thax, Vortix and Brick.. The few scenes in which the dwindling band grab a few moments respite, which are presumably intended to give writer and director Neil Marshall the opportunity to expand their characters a little, bear the hallmarks of the kind of desultory knockabout banter you might hear from a bunch of Sarf London lads in their local rather than a bunch of trained Roman soldiers.
Ancient Britain and its inhabitants, shot mostly through a blue/grey filter, look suitably grubby, and Marshall makes good use of the Scottish Highland locations, often shooting from a helicopter to take in a vast landscape that is as bleak as it is breathtaking – and which de-personalises the ant-like figures even further. Marshall paints a grim picture of life in 117AD, however; an existence marked by depressingly regular bouts of blood-letting of the most graphic and goriest kind – in fact, it’s quite staggering to think a film this violent could receive a 15 certificate in the UK. Had I lived through those vicious times, I’d have undoubtedly worn a metal neck brace to foil all attempts to cut my throat – the killing method of preference at the time it seems. Blood spills from beneath comically surprised faces with digital clarity again and again, while nobody gets simply run through when they can have half their heads lopped off by a flying axe. Bloodthirsty teens will love it, but everybody else will probably be turned off by the excess violence. Still, at least you can’t accuse Marshall of toning it down to win a 12 certificate.