Directed by Neil Marshall.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke, David Morrissey and Imogen Poots.
When the legendary Ninth Legion of the Roman army are decimated by a tribe of Pictish warriors, a small band of survivors must fight for survival deep behind enemy lines.
The fourth feature from Geordie director Neil Marshall (The Descent), Centurion is a low-budget historical epic that has been described as “Britain’s answer to Gladiator“, and while it’s easy to draw comparisons with Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning blockbuster, it is fairly safe to assume that the film won’t be troubling the Academy members come voting time. That’s not to say Centurion is a bad film by any means but story is clearly a secondary concern next to bone-crunching action and blood-soaked gore, which is a shame when you consider the array of acting talent on display. However, as fans of the director’s previous work will know, bone-crunching action and blood-soaked gore is what Marshall does best and he is certainly on top of his game with this latest release.
In AD 117, the Roman Empire dominates much of the civilised world but in northern Britain the might of the military has ground to a halt in the face of a new enemy, a savage Celtic tribe known as the Picts. Under the leadership of Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen), the Picts are perfecting their guerrilla tactics and eliminating Roman outposts one at a time, much to the displeasure of Agricola (Paul Freeman), the governor of Britannia. After surviving a Pict raid on a frontier garrison, centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) is rescued by General Virilus (Dominic West) and his battle-hardened Ninth Legion. Summoned by the governor, Virilus and Quintus are tasked with marching north into Caledonia to kill Gorlacon and eliminate his people.
Accompanied by a Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a mute Pict scout and ferocious warrior, the legion head deep into the harsh terrain of the Scottish Highlands only to be betrayed by their guide. Ambushed by the Picts, General Virilus is taken prisoner and all but a handful of the soldiers are brutally slain. When a failed rescue attempt results in the death of Gorlacon’s young son, the Pict chief dispatches Etain and a selection of his most fierce warriors to hunt the soldiers down, with Quintus and his dwindling platoon facing a desperate battle for survival as they look to reach the sanctuary of the Roman frontier.
Running at just 97 minutes, Centurion moves at a frantic pace and there are more than enough intense battle sequences and grisly deaths to satisfy even the most hardcore of viewer. The film might be rated 15 in the UK but don’t let that fool you into thinking the violence is restrained by any stretch of the imagination. While I found the inclusion of some rather iffy CGI-blood to be a tad distracting and unnecessary at times, the majority seemed to be of the old-school practical variety and the red-stuff really does flow by the bucket-load as limbs fly and heads roll at every turn.
Another of the director’s strengths is his knack for maximising his budget and delivering a Hollywood-style polish on a fraction of the cost. Made for just £10m, Centurion manages to match the stylish visual flair of its big budget counterparts and cinematographer Sam McCurdy makes excellent use of its picturesque locations, with some fantastic sweeping helicopter shots that would not look out of place in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Having realised such a polished look for a relatively small cost, it is intriguing to think of what could be achieved with the backing of a major Hollywood studio and it is surely just a matter of time before Marshall tries has hand on the other side of the Atlantic.
Marshall always brings something different to the typical high-profile output of the British film industry Centurion is no exception. For those who have enjoyed his previous work it’s a no-brainer and a fine return to form after the underwhelming Doomsday (2008), and if you’re the type of person who favours hyper-realistic gory action over historical accuracy you’re bound to be entertained by the brutal mayhem on offer here.