I was eager to see Centurion following Duncan’s highly enthusiastic appraisal of itearlier this year on its cinema release, but it didn’t show at either of my local multiplexes. So when it came up for review, I was excited at the prospect of taking a look at it.
Writer/director Neil Marshall chose the massacre of the Ninth Legion during the Roman occupation of Britain for the basis of his latest film. Following an attack on a fort at the hands of the Picts, centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) is taken hostage as the locals look to extract information from him. He manages to escape from his captors to the relative safety of a Roman outpost, where he is ordered to join forces with commander Titus Virilus Flavius (Dominic West) and his Ninth Legion to march into Caledonia to wipe out the Picts and their King Gorlacon.
Following an ambush, the majority of the Ninth Legion are wiped out and Virilus is taken hostage, leaving Dias and a small guerrilla force of survivors left to attempt to free their commander and flee the hostile land with their lives.
There are no complaints with the cast. All perform admirably and, even though some characters aren’t explored fully, the actors who portray them, without exception, play their parts brilliantly, particularly West, who embodies his role as a commander and never fails to convince that he’s an inspirational leader of men, and Fassbender, who puts across an everyman quality that makes you root for him as the film’s central protagonist.
Olga Kurylenko cuts a striking figure as the almost feral Etain, who has honed her senses to make her a perfect hunter following having her tongue cut out and witnessing other atrocities committed by Romans at a young age. Despite not saying a word in the whole film, she puts across a great deal of menace through her performance, and her presence in many scenes makes for tense viewing.
One thing that struck me as particularly impressive was the portrayal of the Picts. They’re not shown as antagonists without reason and, as such, it’s very easy to empathise with their plight. Particularly as the atrocities they suffered at the hands of the Romans are described and shown.
It’s not too much of a stretch to draw parallels between the plight of the Roman army, occupying a foreign land, facing hostility from the locals, and the plight of armed forces in Afghanistan currently. The parallels are subtle and aren’t hammered home, but soldiers questioning the purpose of their efforts, and their superiors’ fearing retreat, and the effect that might have on their political standing, creates interesting comparisons.
Marshall and his production crew have a talent for shooting violence and scenes of gore and there’s a strong sense of gritty realism to his efforts here. Effects shots are used sparingly and tastefully, which adds to the mood of the piece and never distracts, even amidst the multitude of limbs being lopped off and characters being despatched throughout the film. The film must be pushing the limits of the 15 certificate it received. It really is spectacularly gory at times.
There’s been a host of great films of this ilk released this year and I’m all for it. Whilst it’s not as fantastical as Solomon Kane and doesn’t have the art house stylings of Valhalla Rising, Centurion packs plenty of action and excitement in its 90 minute runtime. Whilst not all of the characters and plot points are explored to their full potential, this is an incredibly well paced piece of work that should please fans of the genre and Marshall alike.
I wasn’t keen on Doomsday, but Dog Soldiers and The Descent are, in my view, two of the finest British films of the last ten years and solidified Neil Marshall’s standing as a director whose work is worth looking forward to.
A director who is clearly not short of ideas, Marshall has spoken about the prospect of a WWII and a Western amongst his upcoming projects, both of which excite me a great deal. He’s shown that he’s adept at turning his hand to genre pieces, so I’ve got full faith that he’ll be able to tackle two of the most explored genres in cinema and deliver interesting, blood soaked takes on them.
There are a host of deleted scenes available to view here. Those who read Duncan’s comment at the bottom of his review would have noted that there was a significantly longer cut of the film clocking in at almost double the length. Whilst there isn’t 90 minutes of deleted scenes, the 15 minutes available gives a good feel of the kind of material that was cut and for what reason. Marshall provides commentary for the scenes and gives his rationale for each scene’s omission. I enjoyed all the scenes. They’re of high quality and would have served the story, but not necessarily aided the pacing of the piece which, as mentioned earlier, is one of its greatest strengths.
There’s an in-depth ‘making of’ that looks at all aspects of the production and clocks in at a little under 30 minutes. It’s a thoroughly interesting look at the production of the film that’s one of the better features I’ve seen of its kind for quite some time. The cast and crew seem to be having a great time despite being in some hostile conditions.
There’s a short collection of outtakesthat show actors falling over and laughing about it and other moments of hilarity. There are also a couple of production galleries and the theatrical trailer.
The solid set of extras compliment this excellent film and, as such, this release comes highly recommended.