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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Centurion (2010) - Action Thiller

Centurion (2010) - Written and directed by Neil Marshall the fictionalized account of the Roman Ninth Legion and their massacre at the hands of the Picts, tribal Britons in 60 or 61 AD. In history the defeat of the Ninth is believed to be the result of spreading the soldiers across too many small forts thus sapping the strength from what would have been a legion of 5000 men. Instead a smaller force tried to break a Pict siege at colonia and was soundly defeated with 80% of the soldiers being killed.
In the movie version liberty is taken with history and the Governor Julius Agricula while attempting to win favor with Rome makes it his cause to destroy the Pict resistance. He orders his General Virilus (Dominic West) to take the legion and seek out the Pict stronghold and destroy it. How will he find the picts? Agricula has the answer in the lovely and deadly Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a Pict tracker who is under his sway. She heads out and leads the Legion north. They save a soldier running from the Picts named Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) , our narrator who joins the group as they head into hostile company.

The narration speaks about how the Romans are not prepared for the war they are fighting. The Picts do not stand in the open but instead wage a gorilla war striking and disappearing. This will be the battle where that changes. Except that Etain leads the Legion into a trap and they are decimated in battle. Only a handful of Romans survive lead by Quintus they move fast with the goal f rescuing their captured general. While avoiding the roving party pf Picts the Romans make their way to the Pict camp and make an attempt at saving Virilus. They can not free him and in their fight to escape the camp Soldier Thax (JJ Fields) kills the son of Pict leader Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). In fact the entire rescue attempt is written just to create the idea that the picts will never stop hunting the remaining Romans. Indeed the hunting party lead by the skilled Etain stays on their heels for the entire movie. This is when the film turns into many other Marshall films the action survival film. Like in Dog Soldiers (2002), The Descent (2005) or Doomsday (2008) Marshall writes a pretty tight action survival film. He knows what he is doing and although there is a slow sequence in this one he makes the hunt tense with periods of gory action mixed in. Eventually we get to a final showdown for the remaining soldiers with the hunters and then there are a couple plot points to deal with some of the personalities of the survivors. The end was somewhat predictable but satisfying after the ride we were on.

In the world of Neil Marshall the Descent currently stands alone as a Masterpiece so where does Centurion fit? It is very derivative in structure to his other movies. Part of that is the need to create the survival action film. Some of it could be the M. Night Shyamalaning of Marshall although I hope not. Yes that is Shyamalan as a verb meaning caught in a self created style that will drake you down as it bloated carcass sinks into the depths. Doomsday was a better action film with better more realistic fight scenes. Here we have a lot of CGI blood spraying around and sometimes it doesn't fit, more manually triggered effects should have been used. When they did go for the old fashion variety they were well done and cringe producing. Dog Soldiers was a better survival movie even with its vital flaw of not having a werewolf transformation scene. Still it was scary and gory and wonderfully satisfying as a horror survival piece.

So Centurion has to sit in fourth of the four Marshall films. By no means a waste of time but still not something that builds on the past and brings Marshall to a new Higher plateau. That is what I was hoping for with this, that the film surpasses the older films and shows the growth of Marshall as a film maker. I am sure it did not. It was entertaining, it told an interesting story with action and adventure, but the obvious plot devices and predictability left me feeling ...well ehhh. Don't get me wrong I fully recommend the film. Many people out there are going to love this movie. I just wanted a progression in growth of the filmaker, that I am not sure I got.

Rating (6.1) 5 and above being recommended. If I was to use the New Zombiegrrlz rating I would tell you to wait until you could rent it.

There are some other things to say about this film, I see on some message boards that there is some debate about whether there would be a black soldier in the Roman army serving in England. This is a small thing to me considering that the leader of the hunting pict is a woman and there are several woman warriors in the party. Not that I mind hot babe warriors, just saying if we are historical they probably would not be in those positions. I think this kind of issue needs to be ignored, this is a movie made in our times where color and sex are not the primary concern in casting. It is not a historical piece shooting for accuracy it is a action film and if having diversity in it is offensive too the viewer then the viewer is looking at it much too seriously. Then you are probably offended by the clothes not matching the times or that everyone has really perfect teeth. It has very little to do with modern political correctness and more to do with trying to capture the largest possible audience. Is it necessary? Well I think the point of the multicultural cast reflect the wide expanse of Roman power. It was not a bad way of showing just how far and wide the Romans conquered. We always try to infer that we know what the director and casting director was doing when they made these decisions and we don't. Then of course you could read too much into it and see it as an allegory to US involvement in Afghanistan, great enjoy that, but until Neil Marshall comes out and says it is lets just look at it as the entertaining film it is.

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