Neil Marshall's violent sword-and-sandals adventure...
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The so called "sword-and-sandals" movie genre has never been more popular. Blockbuster films like Gladiator and 300 opened the doors, but it was the recent hit TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand that tore those doors right off their hinges. Fans want bloody Roman and Greek action-adventure, and they want it now. Enter Magnolia Pictures' CENTURION, Neil Marshall's (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) violent take on the subject matter.
The year is 117 AD and the Roman Empire has encountered a snag in their plans for world conquest: the Picts, savage inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands. The film opens with Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) as the only survivor of a Pictish raid. Captured (and tourtured), the rough-and-tough soldier soon manages escape, stumbling upon a garrison of fellow Romans: the Ninth Legion. While seemingly safe in the company of 3,000 troops led by the jeering Commander Gratus (Andreas Wisniewski ), Dias and the Ninth Legion are brutally overcome by the untraditional guerrilla warfare tactics of the Picts. Surviving the onslaught, Dias and a handful of soldiers are forced to participate in a tense game of cat and mouse; outrunning a posse of Picts led by an almost supernatural female tracker named Etain (Olga Kurylenko).
Centurion earns high marks for its vicious portrayal of bladed combat. I've seen A LOT of hack-and-slash movies and Centurion has by far the most stabbings, beheadings, cleavings and dismemberments in the first half then any movie I can recall. It's all filmed very aggressive and realsitic too, unlike the over the top, stylized approach taken by 300. Oh, there's a style to Centurion's bloody action - like the collage-like sequence of slaughter when the Ninth Legion is destroyed - but it's a raw, gory style more akin to Rambo then the slo-mo fountains of CGI blood in Spartacus. That said, fans of violent swordplay will immensely enjoy Centurion.
Centurion does stray from the action mid-way, turning the film into more of a suspenseful (and slower paced) soldiers-on-the-run story. It'll still hold your attention, especially wanting to know the outcome, but the switch is rather unexpected and jarring after being assaulted with intense battles for so long.
Acting is also a hit and miss. While all the actors in Centurion appear talented, that talent is sadly underused. For example, I never fully saw Quintus Dias as the starring hero with a purpose, appearing much like a typical (albeit skilled) soldier thrust from one situation to the next. His character lacked any real depth or soul. The late (and shallow) explaination that his father was once a great gladiator explained why he could fight, but nothing more. Almost to hammer home my point, Olga Kurylenko's character as Etain is mute and does not speak one line of dialogue. Centurion's actors and the characters they portray fill the screen with a commanding charisma, but alas come across very one dimensional. It all works from an action and visual standpoint, but not so much as a drama.
And look good Centurion does. From the bleak greys of the remote wilderness settings to the fantastic costume designs, Centurion packs a high-production look and feel (it was made for $12 million - cheap by Hollywood standards). What I particularily liked was the gritty realism - not just the combat - but the attention to detail, such as the scars on many of the soldier's faces from years of battle.
Special Features on the Centurion DVD include writer-director/crew commentary, deleted scenes and an entertaining "making of" documentary called "Blood, Fire & Fury: Behind the Scenes of Centurion". With so many bare-bone DVD releases these days (have to buy the "Special Edition" or blu-ray for extras!), it's great to see Centurion slip these Special Features in.
Centurion doesn't deliver another blockbuster movie to the sword-and-sandals genre, but it DOES bring a bloody good time. Those that need an action fix set in Roman times will find plenty to like about Centurion. With a great visual tone, hyper-violent combat and a charismatic cast, Centurion is an awesome way to spend 97 minutes of your time.
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Magnolia Pictures' Centurion is rated R for sequences of strong violence and language. It is available now on DVD wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jeff Saylor