CENTURION

5 out of 10

Released: 23rd April 2010

Director:  Neil Marshall: (Hellboy 3 / Doomsday / The Descent / Dog Soldiers)

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Imogen Poots, Liam Cunningham, Noel Clarke, Riz Ahmed, JJ Feild, Dimitri Leonidas, Lee Ross, Paul Freeman, Tom Mannion, Dave Legeno with Ulrich Thomsen and David Morrissey

Writer: Neil Marshall

Trailer: CENTURION

Director Neil Marshall is one of the UK’s best action-horror directors making movies in the UK with British talent.  So far we’ve had Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday.  All of which were a solid string of interesting genre pics.  This time around we have a good flick based on the legend of the Ninth Roman legion that marched into Scotland circa 200BC never to be seen again.  This could even serve as a loose prequel to the Channing Tatum (MAGIC MIKE) starring The Eagle.  Again this is a sturdy, no-nonsense chase movie.

Centurion follows seven or eight Roman survivors of a raid in which their general (Dominic West – THE WIRE -TV) gets captured by Picts.  The group, led by Michael Fasssbender (SHAME), endeavour to rescue him and then find there way back behind their own lines.  Essentially stranded and being hunted by Picts lead by former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (MAX PAYNE), they have to use their wits to survive.  The usual criticism aimed at Neil Marshall‘s films are that he never spends time building his characters, and this is very true of Centurion too.  What he does demonstrate though is how quickly death can take us, especially in war.  There are few opportunities to sit around and share niceties.  One character is hit in the head with a club and you see the life go out of eyes instantly, an amazing shot which as far as I know is unique.  There is no time in Centurion for protracted death scenes.  The cast is made up of a great mixed bag of great British and Irish supporting actors from all backgrounds. The ubiquitous Noel Clarke (SCREWED – 2011) plays an athlete known for his speed, Liam Cunningham (THE TOURNAMENT) and David Morrissey  (BLITZ) are the berserkers in the pack and Riz Ahmed  (THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST) survives long enough to explain that he is a chef.  The plot  also squeezes in the potential for a romance with a woman to whom Fassbender refers to as “witch!” as well.  This part of the movie could have been excised and no one would have known any different.

To be truthful, anyone could have played our leading hero in Centurion but this was a timely project for man of the hour, Michael Fassbender before he got snapped up by Hollywood.  He’s competent enough, just unmemorable.  So what ultimately ended up with is Neil Marshall‘s least personal movie. Beyond the carnage and the arbitrary dispatch of his cast, there are no discernible  traits of his on show.  It’s still a solid and dependable way to spend an hour and a half.  Great and involving action and a nasty turncoat amongst their number give this a little seasoning but not enough to truly stick out from the pack.  The large scale battle near the beginning looks like the biggest set piece Marshall has wrangled so far and it is excellent. Quite immersive! Just a shame the movie never betters this sequence and subsequently never rises above the average. In this respect, its very similar to its companion piece The Eagle (also reviewed here). So organise a Roman double bill, why not? It’s better than the Jack trilogy.

5 out of 10 – Great action, fights, battles, acting with a fair story. Only it’s not as quirky or as much fun as the director’s previous three films. It needs more personality.  But its a chase movie not a Mike Leigh movie. Characterisation is a luxury in films like this dear critics, don’t you forget it.

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT PERSON IN BEFORE?

  • Michael Fassbender: The Snowman (2017), Song to Song, Alien Covenant, Trespass Against Us, Assassin’s Creed, X-Men 5, The Light Between Oceans, Trespass Against Us, Steve Jobs, Macbeth (2015), Slow West, Frank, X Men 4, 12 Years a Slave, The Counsellor, Prometheus, Haywire, Shame, A Dangerous Method, X Men- First Class, Jonah Hex, Centurion, Inglourious Basterds, Fish Tank, Eden Lake, Hunger, 300, Band Of Brothers (TV)
  • Dominic West: Colette, The Square, Tomb Raider (2018), The Affair (TV), Finding Dory (voice), Money Monster, Testament of Youth, Pride (2014), John Carter, The Awakening, Johnny English 2, Punisher – War Zone,  300, The Wire (TV), Hannibal Rising, Chicago, The Forgotten, Richard III, True Blue, 28 Days, Rock Star, The Gambler, Surviving Picasso
  • Olga Kurylenko: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, The Death of Stalin, Momentum, The November Man, The Water Diviner, Vampire Academy, Oblivion, To The Wonder, Seven Psychopaths, James Bond- Quantum Of Solace, Max Payne, Hitman
  • Imogen Poots: Popstar, Green Room, Knight of Cups, She’s Funny That Way, A Long Way Down, Need For Speed, That Awkward Moment, FilthThe Look Of Love, A Late Quartet, Comes a Bright Day, Fright Night (2011), ChatroomCenturion, Cracks, 28 Weeks Later, V for Vendetta
  • Liam Cunningham: Game of Thrones (TV), Childhood of a Leader, Noble, Let Us Prey, Dr Who (TV), The Numbers Station, Good Vibrations, Safe House, War Horse, The Guard, Clash Of The Titans (201o), Harry Brown, Perrier’s Bounty, The Tournament, Blood- The Last Vampire, The Mummy 3, Hunger, The Escapist, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, The League Of Gentleman’s Apocalypse, Dog Soldiers, Jude, War Of The Buttons, A Little Princess, First Knight
  • Noel Clarke: 10×10, Mute, I Kill Giants, The Habit of Beauty, Brotherhood (2016), The Anomaly, I Am Soldier, Star Trek 2 (2013), The KnotStorage 24Huge,  Screwed (2011)Heartless4-3-2-1,  CenturionSex & Drugs & Rock-N-Roll  Doghouse,  Adulthood, Kidulthood, Dr Who (TV), Auf Wierdesen Pet (TV )
  • Riz Ahmed: Venom, Una, City of Tiny Lights, Star Wars – Rogue One, Bourne 5, Nightcrawler, Closed CircuitThe Reluctant Fundamentalist, TrishnaIll Manors, Black Gold, Four LionsShifty, Dead Set (TV),  The Road To Guantanemo
  • JJ Feild: Professor Marston and The Wonder Women, Not Safe For Work, Austenland, Captain America, Third Star, Telstar, Goal 3, Blood – The Last Vampire, Last Orders
  • Dimitri Leonidas: Renegades (2017), Rosewater, The Monuments Men, Tormented, Sinbad (TV)
  • Lee Ross: Dusty & Me, ID2, Infected, Dawn of the Planet of The Apes, Locke (voice), Eastenders (TV), Goal, Metroland, Rogue Trader, I.D., Secrets and Lies,  Hard Men, Press Gang (TV)
  • Paul Freeman: Death (2014), Getaway, Hard Boiled SweetsA Fantastic Fear Of Everything, Powers Rangers – The Movie, Just Like a Woman, Indiana Jones and The Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Long Good Friday
  • Tom Mannion: Emmerdale (TV), F, Brothers (Denmark), Iris, Beautiful Creatures, Croupier, That Sinking Feeling
  • Dave Legeno: Sword of Vengeance, Last Knights, The Incident, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows- part 1 & 2, Bonded By Blood, CenturionDead Cert, The Cottage, Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince, Hell To Pay, Snatch
  • Ulrich Thomsen: Mortdecai, The Thing (2011), Season Of The Witch, The International, Duplicity, The Broken, Hitman, Brothers (Denmark), Festen
  • David Morrissey: The Ones Below, The Walking Dead (TV), Welcome To The PunchBlitz, Nowhere Boy, Is Anybody There?, The Reaping, The Other Boleyn Girl, Derailed, Basic Instinct 2, Hilary & Jackie, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Born Romantic, Some Voices, Fanny & Elvis, Waterland, Drowning By Numbers
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One thought on “CENTURION

  1. CENTURION – review by Joe Pesci II

    Have you ever found yourself awake at night wondering about the fate of the Fabled 9th Legion of Ancient Rome? Well wonder no longer for the truth is out! About half an hour into CENTURION they get slaughtered by pesky Picts with big balls of fire. Some survive but get slaughtered later.

    Of course, there’s more to it than that. Our hero is played by Michael Fassbender. We first meet him (just after a title sequence whose great innovation is its illegibility) halfway through his story as he’s running through the snowy Scottish mountains. Then we flashback to see how he got into this pickle. We find him at a Roman fort in the north of Britain which is attacked by pesky Picts. Fassbender is the sole survivor and makes his way to the Fabled 9th Legion of Ancient Rome who are slumming in York with their General, a lovable rogue played by Dominic West who seems to be enjoying himself.

    But the Fabled 9th Legion of Ancient Rome is promptly sent off to deal with the pesky Picts. Ludicrous plot reasons require that they take a tracker (Olga Kurylenko) with them. She’s a pesky Pict, and the Romans have pulled out her tongue and raped her mum. So, obviously they trust her.

    Meanwhile Fassbender meets some surly legionaries played by such stalwarts as Lee Ross and David Morrissey. Ross, whilst discussing their General, has the deathless line ‘he’s a reckless and ruthless bastard and I’d die for him without hesitation’. Guess what? Five minutes later they’ve been betrayed by Kurylenko, and the pesky Picts have demolished the allegedly 3000-strong legion (even though it looks like there’s about 30 of them) including poor old Ross.

    But there are some survivors! Here are marathon runner Noel Clarke, old soldier Liam Cunningham, and arrow-fodder Riz Ahmed, Dimitri Leonidas and JJ Feild. Led by the incredibly dull Fassbender they mount an abortive mission to rescue West, and escape after one of them has managed to murder a child.

    The rest of the film sees the Romans escaping deep into picturesque countryside, pursued by the pesky Picts, and wolves, and encountering a pretty witch who isn’t a witch. You will be astonished to learn that the protagonists are picked off by the Picts at regular intervals. The film ends with a big betrayal.
    You may have spotted the film’s big problem already. I guess the film-makers would claim that they’re exploring moral ambiguity or something, but it’s difficult to be on the side of the Romans because (a) they’re Romans, (b) they’re invading, (c) they are by their own admission rapists, (d) we see one of them kill a sleeping child, (e) Michael Fassbender is a really boring hero. So, when poor old David Morrissey gets killed by a Roman who’s mistaken him for a pesky Pict we’re not sorry to see the end of him, we’re just chortling at the comedy (and it’s not meant to be comic at all, there’s swelling music and slow motion and Fassbender lifting his arms aloft and yelling ‘NOOOOOOOOOO’ and everything). So, yes, I was on the side of the pesky Picts. In a desperate attempt to make the Romans look good the film-makers decide that the witch who isn’t a witch was a victim of evil Pictish behaviour. They also try to make Fassbender honourable but it’s too late.

    There are at least two decent jokes in the film, one of which is to do with the construction of Hadrian’s Wall. Most of the laughs are unintentional though. Take the supposedly solemn moment where Fassbender takes charge of the seven survivors. One of them calls him ‘CENTURION’ and hands him a helmet. Fassbender looks comically embarrassed and puts the helmet down by a convenient gravestone and he seems to be channelling the spirit of Leslie Nielsen. And then there’s the bit where the whole gang are peeping over the brow of a hill like a Scooby-Doo gang, and then there’s the bit where they’re hiding under leaves; and the bit when they’re hiding in a cellar from the tracker who can usually scent a man from miles off but somehow fails to do so this time.

    I’ve just looked through Michael Fassbender’s filmography and see that I’ve encountered him three times. I have no recollection of any of those performances. To these I think I can confidently add his performance here, though I might remember the funny bit with the helmet. The likes of Cunningham, Morrissey and Clarke do their stuff perfectly well and West chews a bit of scenery.

    But this is not a film about actors. Or if it is, it’s about hacking them into little pieces. The style chosen for depicting the blood and death seems to be borrowed from stuff like ROME and SPARTACUS (the newish one). Which means a lot of the blood seems even more fake than usual (with the colour and consistency of blackcurrant juice perhaps), and maybe my eyes lied but sometimes the blackcurrant blood seemed to be spilt before the impact of weapon on flesh. And arrows. Just how much damage can they do? Some characters get killed by them, but when Liam Cunningham finds one stuck in his back it’s just a mild inconvenience. And it’s difficult to have any interest in a fight, no matter how well choreographed, if you don’t care who wins.

    The film has two endings, one of which is pretty good (and it gives Tom Mannion a chance to utter precisely one word; to think I once saw him play Cyrano de Bergerac). The second ending is cringe-inducingly dreadful.

    CENTURION is a big dumb film with the occasional flash of interest. Perhaps if the film had been told from a different point of view, or if the fate of the Fabled 9th Legion of Ancient Rome was more interesting then maybe the film would have been better. But ultimately the solution to the 2000 year old mystery is: they got killed.

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