Like a Lumberjack with no arms, Centurion fails to deliver the killer blow.
“Veronica Corningstone: Oh, well, when in Rome.
Ron Burgundy: Yes? Please, go on.
Veronica Corningstone: Uh, do as the Romans do?
Veronica Corningstone: It’s an old expression.
Ron Burgundy: Oh! I’ve never heard of it. It’s wonderful, though.”
Possibly because it wasn’t set in Rome, possibly because of the direction, possibly because of the seriously under-used cast, possibly because like when I play football, it’s not particularly graceful or pretty and I should just stay in the warm and save people from the embarrassing spectacle, Centurion didn’t tickle me in a way I had would have liked. Sorry. From the director of Dog Soldiers and The Decent, you might have thought that this film would be a perfect opportunity for Neil Marshall to really flex his guns behind the camera. Much to my disappointment he hasn’t really done that. Mr Marshall, you’ve let me down here and allow me to tell you why…
A dangerously long synopsis would look something like this
AD 117. The Roman Empire stretches from Egypt to Spain, and East as far as the Black Sea. But in northern Britain, the relentless onslaught of conquest has ground to a halt in face of the guerrilla tactics of an elusive enemy: the savage and terrifying Picts. Quintus Dias (Fassbender), sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman frontier fort, marches north with General Virilus’ (West) legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the earth and destroy their leader Gorlacon. But when the legion is ambushed on unfamiliar ground, and Virilus taken captive, Quintus faces a desperate struggle to keep his small platoon alive behind enemy lines. Enduring the harsh terrain and evading their remorseless Pict pursuers led by revenge-hungry Pict Warrior Etain (Kurylenko), the band of soldiers race to rescue their General and to reach the safety of the Roman frontier…
…Sounds ok, but it’s a round-about way of saying this follows the same narrative structure as all of Marshall’s other work. An group of people enter into a situation, the shit hits the fan and there’s one survivor. Consider Dog Soldiers and The Decent and you can pretty much figure out how Centurion plays out. Yawn.
It really is a case of taking a one way ticket to cliché country with a sprinkling of Olga Kurylenko giving her best silent performance, which could mean anything. It’s the type of film that could be likened to one of the novelty cakes that you might give to a dog on its birthday. It’s odd, slightly weird and at the end of the day the dog doesn’t really care. You did it for yourself. Marshall appears to have approached the creation of Centurion in the same way. The negatives that really stick out are the script which appears to have been roped together by a 4 year old, the fact that nothing really happens other than a bunch of men get schooled by a woman and Noel Clarke pops up to deliver the most curious accent I have ever heard. Rome via Hackney I think. I also took issue with the reparative shots that Marshall used it was like he saved on the budget by filming the same location from about 101 different angles to give the film some padding. If I’m honest by the end of the film I didn’t really care about the fate of the Roman men, I just wanted to have a little cry. Only a little one though.
Let’s not dwell on the negative aspects for a moment. Marshall has shot the film in such a way to really bring out the gritty reality of the barbarism that the Romans suffered at the hands of the Picts. The digital film stock and the emphasis on the blues and greys in the movie give the viewer a real sense of the cold and the dirt that the Romans are forced to deal with as they seek safety. There are some cheeky sweeping panoramic shots and Marshall makes the Scottish highlands, whilst relentless and unforgiving, look beautiful and seductive. The battle scenes are also bloody and horrific, which for any hot bloded male you can’t help but get excited about. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to maintain my enthusiasm for the script that stank of cheese and the vastly under-used Fassbender who is currently by far and away one of the best actors working the acting circuit at the moment.
Neil Marshall has been quoted to say, “It’s not meant to be historically perfect. I’m picking up on a legend and exploring it… it’s an action thriller” and to be honest I wish he’d slapped a little more history in there as I may have helped craft the film. I certainly didn’t enjoy it, but I would never say avoid it completely, after all it’s important to have your own opinions about these things. If you manage to see it this weekend please let me know if you think my moan was unjustified.
Centurion arrives at cinemas April 23.