Starring: Michael Fassbender, David Morrissey and Liam Cunningham
Distributor: Hopscotch Films
Runtime: 97 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
The early 2nd century AD clash between the Roman imperial legions and the Picts on the British frontier of the empire was harsh and violent. Centurion is not afraid to show either the harshness or the violence (often quite graphically, especially a lot of throat-slitting). There is an extraordinary harshness in the filming of the craggy mountain landscapes, a terrain for survival for a group of Roman soldiers.
Writer-director Neil Marshall offers a credit of thanks to director Walter Hill and Greek historian, Zenophon (for Xenophon). Hill is a director of the tough and visceral school and Marshall quotes his film Southern Comfort. Xenophon chronicled the escape of a group of Greek soldiers fighting their way back to base and safety. In fact, Marshall’s three previous films were all about small groups struggling for survival, menaced by hostile and violent enemies (Dog Soldiers where a group of soldiers confront werewolves, The Descent where a group of women cave explorers battle dead monsters, Doomsday a group in an apocalyptic future).
The narrator here is a soldier, Quintus Dias, son of a freed gladiator slave, captured by the Picts and tortured. In the meantime, the Roman commander sends the 9th legion (the subject of a forthcoming film from Kevin MacDonald, The Eagle of the Ninth) to vanquish the Picts. The opposite happens and most of the men of the Ninth are massacred. A small group, including Quintus, who had been rescued by the legion, leads the small group on a flight north through the wintry Scottish landscapes, pursued by a crack group led by Etain, a tracker, whose family had suffered under the Romans and she had been raped and her tongue cut out. There are some moments of respite when a woman, exiled as a witch, does assist the fugitives.
The flight and chase are gruelling (even for the audience). The cast is strong: Michael Fassbended is Quintus, David Morrissey and Liam Cunningham are two soldier stalwarts. Ulrich Thomsen is the Pict leader. Dominic West the Roman General and Olga Kuryenko, fierce as Etain.
At times the voiceover from Quintus is literate and sonorously delivered followed by 21st century idiom and swearing.
While it re-creates the grim conditions for the legions and the clashes between empire and ‘barbarians’, the film is geared towards an audience (probably male) who prefer their films with action and toughness.
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