Another week, another slice of B-movie fun. Centurion is a small British film with a British take on the swords-and-sandals genre. Neil Marshall, writer/director of Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday, likes putting people in peril; the only difference here is that the people are Roman legionnaires, the time is 2,000 years ago and the place is Scotland (or Caledonia).
The story of this film is a take on the unknown story of the Ninth Legion – the popular version is that they were destroyed by the Picts, although nobody knows exactly what happened. Marshall uses this as a springboard for an enjoyable action thriller: Centurion Quintus (Michael Fassbender) is the only survivor of the destruction of a frontier Roman fort in Scotland, and he is rescued by the Ninth Legion, led by Virulus (Dominic West), who has been ordered to destroy the Picts, only to be betrayed by a mute Pict woman warrior (a great turn from Olga Kurylenko) – an epic ambush in a forest that is reminiscent of Gladiator and 300, leaving only a few survivors to flee back to England before the Pict search party.
The film is populated with a great cast – Fassbender is really good as the man of resolve leading the survivors, West is great as the hard-fighting, hard-partying general, and the group of survivors is filled with some good turns from the likes of David Morrissey, Noel Clarke and Liam Cunningham. There is some possibly anachronistic but still fun ribald dialogue to show the camaraderie of the soldiers, some great action in the first half of the film (where all of the fighting is; the fight scenes are violent and bloody and raw, with swords and spears going through bodies all over the screen), and the scenery is amazing – the vistas of Scotland are beautifully captured, making the stark harshness of the freezing countryside feel believable, an environment that must have been alien to the Romans (I’m amazed people were able to survive in that cold at that time; I’m amazed Scottish people can live there now).
Centurion is not brilliant, but it is good at what it is – a crunchy, brutal, visceral, thrilling little film that is what it is, with some nice moments and an ending that fits the story that went before it. I enjoyed it and hope it finds its audience on DVD.