Directed By: Neil Marshall
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko
Tag line: "History is written in blood"
Trivia: Temperatures would frequently sink to below 0 degrees Celsius in the Inverness Mountains. Indeed the temperature was -5 degrees Celsius (along with a blizzard) on the first day of filming
Roman history fascinates me. I've read a bunch of books on the subject, and there was a time when I could recite the names of every Roman Emperor from Augustus to Septimius Severus. It's an interest that extends to movies and television as well (my favorite TV mini-series is the BBC's 1976 production of I, Claudius), so going in, Neil Marshall's Centurion had all the makings of a movie I would absolutely love.
Turns out I only like it.
The year is 117 A.D., the setting: Northern Britain. Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbinder), a Centurion in the Roman Army, is held prisoner by a Pict tribe, which captured him after massacring an entire Roman outpost. Rescued from his captivity by the army of General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), Dias, who no longer has a legion of his own, joins the 9th under Virilus' command. As luck would have it, he's just in time to march with his new compatriots back into the Northern regions, where, guided by a mute native girl named Etain (Olga Kurylenko), they hope to squash, once and for all, the Pict “barbarians”. Alas, Etain turns out to be a traitor, and leads the 9th straight into an ambush. The entire Legion decimated, Dias, with a handful of survivors in tow, must make his way back to the Roman-controlled south before he, too, becomes a casualty of war.
There's quite a bit to like about Centurion, not the least of which is its stunning cinematography. There are a number of breathtaking aerial shots that show off the Scottish countryside, and even when the landscape is grim and gloomy (there's plenty of fog in this movie, and a whole lot of wintry weather), it's still a sight to behold. The cat-and-mouse chase, with Dias and his men only a few short steps ahead of the Picts at any given moment, is also a plus. These elements, combined with a handful of superior battle sequences, do their part to make Centurion an entertaining film.
Unfortunately, the movie has one huge drawback as well: it's reliance on CGI blood. As you'd expect from an action movie that takes place in Roman times, Centurion is a violent movie, with gore aplenty, but much of the effect is ruined by the filmmaker's decision to use CGI for several scenes of bloodletting. A sword severing a limb or an ax crashing down on someone's head occasionally sends out a spatter of CGI plasma, which looks every bit like computer-generated blood. I was honestly amazed at how awful it is, and there were times it proved a real distraction, often ruining what was an otherwise effective battle sequence.
Neil Marshall impressed the hell out of me with his first three films (Dog Soldiers in 2002, The Descent in 2005, and Doomsday in 2008), and I was genuinely thrilled when I heard he was making a movie set in Roman times.
Sure, Centurion is a good film, but dammit...I had my heart set on a great one!