Film: This is the sort of film that we don’t see a lot of made in Britain. Historical Action Epics are saved mostly for lavish Hollywood productions, Gladiator being the prime example, although it is directed by a Brit. But now Britain (with funding from the UK Film Council, I thank you!) has given its own breed of Roman epic, and it’s bloody good. And I mean bloody.

The story follows Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Basterds) as Quintus Dias, a Roman Centurion who joins the 9th Legion after escaping from a tribe of Picts in Britain circa 117 AD. The 9th Legion have been given a task of taking down the Picts who are putting a halt to the Roman conquest of Britain. But when en route to take on the Picts, the Legion is ambushed and their General is captured. Quintus, along with 6 other survivors head out on a mission to save their General. But after unexpected events, the survivors must run for their lives to the Roman Frontier as they are being hunted by the savage Picts, by the mute and brutal Etain (Quantum of Solace’s Olga Kurylenko).

The story effectively blends sword and sandal genre with a thrilling chase movie filled with bone crushing action. The battle scenes are many, some disappointingly brief but others relentlessly paced with highly entertaining results. Neil Marshall, director of the brilliant cheap nasty Dog Soldiers and The Descent one of my favourite horror movies, is no stranger to high blood levels in his movies and this movie is no difference. Heads roll, guts spill and axes fly. It is all very gritty and although there is a lot if it, the gore seems necessary to really make the battle scenes that much more effective. Marshall can work wonders with low-budgets, as proven by his previous movies, and he once again proves himself here. He makes a small British movie have the gravitas of the best of what Hollywood has to offer, though not quite matching the heights of Gladiator. The cinematography particularly highlights this, creating an amazing gritty tone, with a blue-grey tint that makes the awe-inspiring Scottish landscapes look that much more grand and spectacular.

Although the action is impressive and the pacing never makes the movie dull,the dialogue is, at times, very clichéd. It features your textbook lines such as ‘Save Yourself’, ‘It’s a trap’ and ‘We must fight, or die.’ Many of the lines are also designed to be very trailer friendly and would fit well for any of the taglines for the movie’s poster, ‘We Live Together, or Die divided’ is a personal favourite of mine. But it isn’t too distracting, and the cast are more than talented enough to make it work. Michael Fassbender is proving himself as a dependable leading man but this is fair from a solo man film. Fassbender has a great camaraderie with his fellow actors who play the fellow Centurions on the run, particularly with Liam Cunningham’s Brick and David Morrissey’s Bothos. Dominic West has fun as the ill-fated General of the 9th Legion, but unfortunately doesn’t have a great deal of screentime. Noel Clarke again is victim to lack of screentime, but J.J. Field as the un-trustworthy Thax does a lot more with his similar amount of screen time. Olga Kurylenko particularly shines in this movie playing the beautiful and dangerous mute Pict warrior Etain. She does so well in conveying emotions in a scene without saying a word and creates a very well-rounded character, in fact more rounded then some of the speaking soldier characters. And she’s hot, even in Pict gear.

Marshall is a much better director then he is a writer, as proven by this film. Centurion certainly matches up to the entertainment and blood levels of Dog Soldiers, but it does lack the inventiveness and dramatic tension of The Descent, his best film to date. This is a big step up from his previous film Doomsday, which was quite fun but not a lot else. But Marshall has crafted an effective British Epic and an entertaining action chase movie. This is what to look at if you need an example of an effective low-budget flick that manages to impress thanks to some gritty battle scenes and stunning cinematography. And Olga Kurylenko.

Extras: A strong bundle of extras is on show here. There is an insightful Commentary from Marshall himself and crew members of the movie. There is also a very informative Making Of featurettes that give well researched context on the real 9th Legion and the history of Roman Britain, along with offering insight into how the movie was made and the shooting conditions (apparently it’s cold in Scotland, who knew). The making of is also very funny, showing the sense of camaraderie which is very clear in the film as well. The outtakes and funny as well, and the deleted scenes show more Dominic West but were understandably cut out for the sake of pacing the movie. The trailer and photo galleries round off the bonus material.

Film- 4/5                      Extras- 4/5

Advertisements