TADFF 10: CENTURION Review

[The first film playing on a UK double-bill at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival tonite, I suppose it is time to revisit my review.  Note there are other takes on the film below in the links.]

Michael Fassbender is Centurion Quintus Dias, in charge of a legion at the northern most part of the reach of the Roman Empire in Britain. One night the garrison is attacked by an army of Picts. They are the local peoples who inhabited the northern lands and defended what is now Scotland and Britain from the Roman invasion. His garrison is decimated and he is taken alive to the Pict leader, Gorlacon. Rome's most powerful Legion, The Ninth, led my Maximus, is sent into the North as a show of force against this guerrilla army, guided by Etain, an expert tracker. Meanwhile, Dias has managed to escape his captors and sprints into the care of the Ninth Legion. He joins this legion and goes back into the North. 

But Etain has led them into a trap and the Night Legion is slaughtered by the Pict army. Only a scrap of soldiers remain alongside Dias. They know Maximus has been taken back to the village and they go in the dark of night and try to free him. One of the soldiers does something terrible during the botched rescue attempt so Gorlacon sends Etain out with other warriors to hunt down these remaining Romans and kill them. Now Dias must lead this small band of men back South to safe territory before Etain and her warriors can track them down. The race for survival begins. 

Centurion features possibly more running across mountains and fields than a Peter Jackson LOTR film! Fortunately for Marshall he chose to film in the Scottish Highlands which is just gorgeous territory. Neil makes great use of the wide angle lens with some well spotted territory. Centurion is certainly full of sweeping and majestic images which only emphasize the isolation of these lone survivors; the depth of Marshall's technical chops leaves little doubt. 
 
And while there is no shortage of action and blood in Centurion, I felt some of it was cut too fast to really appreciate what was happening on screen. 'Wait! Did that guy just lose the top of his head?' 'Which limb did they just cut off?'  Overall, it is billed as an action film and by that yardstick, it lives up to expectations. After a couple doses of mass violence and death the film narrows in on two groups of no more that half a dozen people each and we watch them try to outwit each other; one group yearning to survive, the other yearning to kill. The structure of Centurion is simple enough. Introduce Romans. Set up Romans. Romans and Picts die. Chase Romans. Romans and Picts die. Many Romans and Picts have died. Many.
 
And when it is time for a Marshall film it must be time for beautiful and deadly women. Once again Neil Marshall has strong powerful women characters in his film. Where he started back with The Descent, continuing with Doomsday, Centurion carries the torch and has no shortage of deadly femmes. What is known of Pict history is that if you could pick up a sword you could fight, so Neil cannot be completely accused of pandering to fanboys with females donned in the skins of wild animals shooting arrows and swinging spears. Though we do appreciate their attractiveness. Olga Kurylenko certainly is exciting as Etain. Neil's wife, Axelle Carolyn, moves up from background extra in Doomsday to part of the chase party and has one of the more memorable deaths. Good on you girl. 

The one difficulty I had with the film was trying to empathize with the Romans. After all, they are the invaders and the Picts are merely defending their homeland. So there's that. The soldiers and centurions get the raw end of the deal because they are simply the hammer of Rome and where they are told to go fight they go. But I kept thinking to myself that these guys marched upon Britain and tried to conquer it and that is just not cricket with me. So yeah. Good on you Picts. Way to kill those Roman... bastards... 

What? 

How many made it back? 

Bastards!
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