But that’s not a good thing for ‘Centurion’
In an old Monty Python routine, a maniacal barber about to shave an unwary customer and stropping his razor, starts muttering, “Blood, spurt, artery, psycho!” That about sums up the plot in Centurion, a budget bloodfest from Neil Marshall (The Descent) about Roman Legionnaires trapped behind enemy lines in the far north of Britain. It has the same molten pewter look (and shiny red blood) of Zach Snyder’s 300, and aspires to the same level of epic classical tragedy, but Centurion lacks even the minimal dramatic resonance of Snyder’s pulpy take on the Spartans.
Based on another nugget of historical fact, the disappearance of the entire Ninth Roman Legion into the mists of Britain, Marshall envisions a troop of battle-weary soldiers, far from home, their leave indefinitely cancelled, trapped in “a new kind of war … without honor … without end,” in an environment so hostile “even the land wants us dead.” Sound familiar?
Having set up the timeliness (and, sadly, timelessness) of his soldiers’ plight, Marshall turns away from politics to focus on individual acts of courage against impossible odds. But the fact is the Romans are the invaders; they have no business in Britain except conquest, and if the indigenous tribes (in this case, groovy-looking blue-painted Picts) respond with savage guerrilla warfare to protect themselves and their land, who can blame them?
Struggling to create empathy for his characters, Marshall offers Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), son of a slave/gladiator, and the de facto leader of the proverbial ragtag group of survivors who go off in search of their captured general (Dominic West) after their legion is led into a trap and slaughtered. This group is made up of the usual suspects: Greek, Syrian, African, Tuscan, an athlete, a cook. An unlikely rescue attempt (the Picts all ride off for some reason, leaving their prize captive scarcely guarded) only gets the Roman soldiers, fleeing on foot, pursued by a mounted band of Pictish warriors led by a vengeful and relentless female tracker (Olga Kurylenko).
Marshall tries to earn points for his trendy kick-ass women warriors, but he also takes special glee in showing men punching women in the face; it happens over and over. Meanwhile, heads are bashed, throats gashed, limbs severed, and torsos impaled, and when Marshall imposes stirring music over the carnage, fishing for a tragic dimension the action never earns, it’s just laughable. (PG-13). 97 minutes.
CENTURION ★1/2 (out of four)
Wth Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, and Olga Kurylenko. Written and directed by Neil Marshall. A Magnolia release. Rated (PG-13). 97 minutes. Watch film trailer >>>