Sunday, 12 September 2010
Neil Marshall has a rock-solid track record when it comes to bloody good fun. From his first film Dog Soldiers (their soldiers… and they’re werewolves!) through The Descent and Doomsday, he rarely puts a foot wrong when it comes to serving up quality cheap thrills.
So Centurion might seem at first glance to be something of a chance of pace: based around the story of the Roman Ninth Legion, who marched into the wilds of Scotland in the first century AD and never came back, it sounds like it has at least bone foot based in reality – not an area Marshall’s previous films have had much time for. But here he manages to combine his love of all-action film-making with a thin (occasionally very thin) layer of historical accuracy to create perhaps his most satisfying film to date.
Quintus Dais (Michael Fassbender) is the commander of a small fort on the border between Roman-controlled Britain and the free lands to the north ruled by the Picts, savage tribespeople who don’t fight according to the Roman rules of warfare (and if you think that’s the last parallel this film has to make with the War on Terror, think again). For example, they overrun his fort during a night-time sneak attack, capturing Dais and taking him hostage. Meanwhile, General Virilus (Dominic West, AKA McNulty from The Wire) has been given the job of leading the Ninth Legion north and solving the Pict problem once and for all. The bad news is, the Picts are one step ahead of them all the way; the worst news is, soon Dais is leading a handful of survivors across the barren Scottish highlands as they desperately try to escape a pack of Picts lead by the silent but deadly Etain (Olga Kurylenko) who have sworn to track them down and kill them or die trying.
After the Iraq War analogies (and plenty of severed heads and spurting blood) of the first half, this segues into a tense and single-minded chase film that’s solidly effective despite the occasional cliché (such as jumping off a cliff into a river to avoid capture). The performances pump up the underwritten characters to good effect too, making this one of the best B-grade action thrillers this year.
Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #480)