Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Noel Clarke, Olga Kurylenko, David Morrissey
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Neil Marshall
Cinematography: Sam McCurdy
Original Score: Llan Eshkeri
Running Time: 97 Mins.
Neil Marshall likes to place his character’s in the bleakest of situations, and locations, take his previous three films, Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday, all see a small group trying to survive in enemy territory against all odds, when I tell you that his fourth film as director, Centurion, concerns the Roman’s attempts to conquer the Picts of Scotland you should now be able to put two and two together and guess what the plot will amount too.
This is the first of two films due this year that look at the infamous Roman’s Ninth Legion (Kevin Macdonald’s The Eagle of the Ninth being due in September), Marshall unsurprisingly sees the majority of the garrison obliterated during an ambush and their General captured, low and behold there is a small group of survivors who, led by the heroic Quintus Dias (Fassbender), set out to rescue Virilus (West) pitting themselves against a vengeful Pict, Etain (Kurylenko) and her band of feral, face painted warriors.
There is nothing wrong with a director repeating a formula, especially if said formula works, and it works well enough with Centurion, though Marshall’s last effort Doomsday was not a complete success it at least dared to try something new at times, a saving grace that Centurion doesn’t possess. That’s not to say it’s a bad film just rather devoid of any inspiration or originality of its own, the obvious comparison is Gladiator especially given the hugely similar cinematography and the always snowy vista (as seen in Gladiator’s opening), this though is not the comparison I would take issue with, rather (in the light of re-watching them recently) it is The Lord of the Rings trilogy with Fellowship of the Ring in particular that Centurion bears unflattering homage.
Structural, i.e. story based, similarities are obvious and in truth not really an issue as the charismatic group journeying across mountains and woods in search of a Macguffin is nothing new, rather it is the cosmetic influences that the scope of Centurion becomes somewhat diminished and highlight’s how far removed from the experience of Lord of the Rings rather than providing a favourable memory. Shot’s of the group trekking over mountain tops, sword-fights in woods and the gritty tussle’s against a primitive foe are in their own right not badly handled but when they inspire memories of such a grand filmic achievement the lack of achievement with the film at hand is non-existent.
Aside from unfavourable comparison though there is enjoyment to be found if you can overlook the lack of originality, the casting is top-notch utilising lesser known (but hugely talented) actors to add an air of authenticity. Fassbender adds another string to his ever-growing bow of great character parts that serve the film rather than his star status and Dominic West is, as ever, fantastic especially in the film’s stand out one on one fight with Kurylenko’s Pict warrior. Kurylenko herself also manages to make Etain a worthy foe albeit a little two-dimensional though arguably it would take a much better actress to give a word-less character any more emotion than simple menace or sadness.
Centurion‘s saving grace is ultimately that it doesn’t stop long enough for you to think too much, apart from misjudged romantic interlude, the action is solid if not inspired though it’s unlikely to bear repeat viewing or linger long in the memory.