A pre-chainsaw extravaganza where the Romans talk like James Bond and the Picts have better military backgrounds than the American generals who invaded Afghanistan.
Michael Fassbender, Dominic West and Olga Kurylenko team up for this roller coaster of brutish violence set in the first century AD in the desolate winter of the Scottish Highlands. “Centurion” follows on the heels of the much-ballyhooed “Robin Hood” ancient history action thriller by stealing the show from its higher budget predecessor.
Set in about 150 AD the story is about Romans fighting the ancient tribal Picts in the awesome, snow swept highlands of Northern Scotland.
Although the intent appears to be to make a film that was more explicitly brutal and more graphically terrifying than “Robin Hood” the result is much more than that. It is an honest, straightforward blood fest in the mold of the old Viking films.
There are the bashings and beheadings of the neo-“Braveheart” films and there is also a little Werner Herzog “Survival Dawn,” “Dances With Wolves” and the chase scenes of “Butch Cassidy” (“Who ARE those guys…”). With a little Monty Python for good measure.
This film is better than a bloody toothed banshee Texas chainsaw extravaganza. Special make up effects designer Paul Hyett found his dream job with limitless crushed heads, severed arms and spurting neck slashes.
The encyclopedia Britannica of arrow, spear and pike wounds. The PhD of punctures. He reported that they started off with about 200 liters of fake blood and used it up halfway through shooting. Once you get started with this kind of production it can be hard to back off.
If you saw Hyett’s work in another fantastic Neil Marshall film, “The Descent,” with the flesh eating slime monster and the hapless girls in the cave losing body parts one by one, you know where this team is coming from.
Unfortunately, by about half way through the film the special effects, costumes and make-up begin to wear thin. How much can one person do with hatchets? Even the ultra-stylized Pict she-warrior Etain (played to the hilt by Olga Kurylenko) starts to look like the same-old, same-old. Honey, do you have to smear that shade of gore on your cheeks all the time?
The chase has gone on too long with insufficient reason given for the survival of the wimpy Romans. They are obviously outmatched in every way by the Picts and have been running over the frozen mountains all but barefoot for a hundred miles.
Are we supposed to believe this? There has to be some reason given why the centurion gets away with it for as long as he does, but none is given. At that point, the film crosses over the line from semi-reality to comic book super-hero and the two genres do not mix.
If you are a sucker for action flicks, especially the ancient war/siege, axe and boiling oil flicks, you will like “Centurion.” By the end of the film it is coming off as almost a B movie but it still has that chutzpah to keep on slashing, bashing and burning.
I’m not sure that even the film makers are aware of the times the film drops off the edge of sadistic drama into the Monty Python zone (“You want to slit his throat? OK, we’ll flip for it…”). The film fades in the second half but is a great and entertaining romp, nonetheless. Not as well acted as, say, “Braveheart,” but much better, more unvarnished and visceral, than “Robin Hood.”
The eating of the caribou stomach contents should go down in history as one of the most memorable savage killer gross-outs on film. It is almost as good as the baby monster emerging from Kane’s chest in the original “Alien.” This is inspiring stuff, but for only the most august action-thriller aficionados.
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Directed and Written by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West and Olga Kurylenko
Release: August 27, 2010
MPAA: Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, grisly images and language
Runtime: 97 minutes